Church membership either turns you into a servant, or proves to you that you’re not one.
That’s the kind of statement that I’ve been making during these "gospel partnership" meetings here in England. Today, Peter Jensen (Anglican Archbishop of Sydney) and I had the privilege of addressing about 170 Christians (mainly pastors & other fulltime workers) gathered from around East Anglia. We met at Christchurch in Cambridge. The program was "Reach" (which we both spoke on) "Build" (which I spoke on) and "Send" (which Peter spoke on). What seemed to draw most interest was the idea of church membership. This idea is common to "gathered" churches, but in an established, state church, though they can see its usefulness, it seems that people are curious of how to make it work. The conversation was amicable and interesting. Peter did a great job enthusing the gathered workers for evangelism. We ended the day by having dinner with Bruce & Lynn Winter. (Bruce retires as Warden of Tyndale House August 2006.)
CJ, as to my canon of theologians, it is late, so perhaps another day I’ll blog about it a little more if you remind me. But I will simply say that my annual rotation is
January: Early church (Polycarp, Ignatius, Didache, etc.)
March: Martin Luther
April: John Calvin
May: The one, the only RICHARD SIBBES
June: Either John Owen or John Bunyan
July: Jonathan Edwards
August: C. H. Spurgeon
September: B. B. Warfield
October: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
November: Carl F. H. Henry (also CS Lewis)
December: John Stott (also Packer, Carson)
While I don’t agree with everything all of these guys have written, they are my elder brothers and instructors in so many ways. So, I read things these folks have written in bits of time during that month, and at my Theology Breakfast for all comers on Thursday mornings at 7am, where we break our fast of THEOLOGY.
That’s it for now. Hope that’s of interest. I’ve never written about this before, CJ, so feel free and pursue me about this more particularly tomorrow.
I was struck not too long ago by an account I read of the worst kind of well-intended but poorly done work for God. In his 1940 autobiography, The Big Sea, Langston Hughes (d. 1967) recounted his "salvation" experience: “I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this: There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed’s church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting . . . . Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder’s son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper, ‘. . . . I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved.’ So he got up and was saved. Then I was left all alone on the mourner’s bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and songs swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans . . . . God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved. So I got up. Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. . . . I couldn’t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn’t seen Jesus, and that now I didn’t believe there was a Jesus any more . . . .”
I assume that many of those people speaking to Hughes were genuine Christians. And I have no doubt that many people have been saved through such experiences. I regret all the millions of people whom, I fear, have wrongly taken an assurance of God’s having forgiven their sins because of such an experience in church. Not that Mr. Hughes had any such illusions; nor, it seems, any idea that there was such a God who would judge him at some point for his own sins.
One sweet aspect of fellowship is to see the lasting, continuing, enduring nature of true gospel work. Evangelism done faithfully and carefully brings not merely relief by escaping a meeting, but a life changed and changing from that point on.
Being here in England, wandering around Cambridge yesterday with some friends, having dinner with the Chapman’s & seeing a whole host of people at the Riddington’s last night, I was reminded of the continuing grace of God in the lives of those that I’ve known and loved. Foretastes of heaven. Encouragements to evangelism.
I also saw my 3 friends at the fish & chips shop near our house. There they were, all 3 still there, just as they had been when we left Cambridge 12 years ago. I invited them to church this coming Sunday at Eden (where I’m preaching). I pray they’ll come.
Now, CJ, as to your question about reading schedule. It is true that I have what I call my "canon of theologians". These are a group of writers from the past, from which I try to do at least a little misc. reading each month, specifically so that I’m not just talking to people from now about what I’m interested in. Instead, I want to make sure that I get some people from "then" about what they’re "interested in."
Should I say more?
I thought Mark’s post “The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs” was excellent. Now I understand why my educational experience was so deficient. I had no knowledge of the historic decline in education Mark described. So this would appear to explain why I was playing basketball rather than reading Latin.
Actually, I’d like to play point guard for a moment and pass the topic of Mark’s blog to my friends. Mark wisely expresses his concern that “we not neglect reading more important things more substantial things.” I couldn’t agree more about the priority of reading for a pastor and the prioritizing of reading (“the important and substantial”). I have yet to meet a leader who is growing in personal passion for God and godliness, and effectiveness in pastoral ministry and preaching, who doesn’t have a voracious appetite for reading. And you men are all very serious about reading! So it would serve us all if you would provide us with a detailed description of your practice of this most important spiritual discipline. So here are some questions I’d like you to please answer:
When and how did your love for reading begin?
Describe your present practice of the spiritual disciplines and provide us with the specifics, if you would (reading of Scripture, supplemental books, how much time you devote to this each day, etc).
Apart from the daily study of Scripture for the edification of your soul, approximately how much time do you devote to reading each day or week?
What books are you presently reading? Al, just for fun, how many books did you read last week?
What have been the five to ten most influential books you have read?
Mark, please describe your monthly reading plan so everyone can be inspired by your example and provoked by your strategic approach to reading that is different each month of the year.
Finally, who do you like in the Super Bowl? (Al and Mark, you are allowed to ask for help with this question.)
Thanks for taking the time to serve us with the answers to these questions my friends!
Georgetown 87 – Duke 84
I’ve had a great day of walking around London with friends, seeing an excellent used bookstore, and, most importantly, establishing a friendship with Peter Masters, pastor since 1970 of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. For 2 1/2 hours this afternoon, Peter graciously entertained me in his study with conversation ranging widely over the history of the Tabernacle during Spurgeon’s time, his own personal history (including his membership interview at Westminster Chapel with Dr. Lloyd-Jones!), and issues facing the church today. One long section of the conversation was on conversion. It was interesting to consider with him what Scripture teaches about the experience of conversion. Of course, secularlists like William James, describe conversion as the breaking in on the conscious mind of connections long growing in the subconscious. But as evangelicals we understand there to be a great change, a radical discontinuity introduced by God’s Holy Spirit. But what Peter wanted to point out was the use of means in producing this discontinuity. He suggested that many of the Puritans had a better understanding of this than many evangelicals (including Reformed evangelicals) today.
Dr. Masters was also concerned that associations of different Christians together not undermine what he referred to as "the ministry of warning." He (correctly, I think) noted that when Christians associate together there is a great pressure against disagreeing. This, he thinks, is quite dangerous. NOT that there should not be associations, simply that we must especially guard this ability, in order to faithfully fulfill our ministries.
Much more I could say. Suffice it to say that I am not aware of having met a pastor of a more evangelistic church than is the Metropolitan Tabernacle. For that, Spurgeon would certainly be pleased. And what’s far more significant, we know that God Himself rejoices in the presentation of the gospel of Christ.
May many more conversions come in our churches in Gaithersburg & Jackson, in Louisville & Washington, in London & beyond.
PS–Tim Challies, if you’re reading, someone sent me your entry on my post on the lightness of blogs. I agree with your response (except where you expressed that I thought all blogs were no more than snacks). Some blogs serve excellent purposes. Perhaps to a lesser degree this one. To a greater degree your own! (Or Al’s, or Ref21, or GirlTalk). Keep up the good work.
I’ve had two good experiences preaching today–in the morning at Duke Street Baptist Church in Richmond (SW London) and at St Helen’s Bishopsgate [Anglican] this evening. I saw some old friends at both, and had good conversations afterwards with the respective pastors–Liam Goligher and William Taylor. Both men are doing good gospel work in different settings. Both are committed to expositional preaching, and both understand Scripture well and are gifted to teach others. Among several of the men here, I’ve seen a real desire to give themselves to the training of others, a desire which is always wise for the future of the church.
My sermon topic in the morning was "Church Discipline" (Duke Street) and in the evening "The Reliability of the Bible" (St. Helens). In both I was trying to instruct & persuade, especially those who may have had questions or objections. Neither was the typical expositional sermon. In both, I tried to make the gospel clear. I pray that my ministry was truly evangelical today. Martin Luther in his lectures on the psalms talks about the heavenly profit of the gospel ministry (Martin Luther, First Lectures on the Psalms II, Works II.441). I hope and pray that there was some such profit today. It’s not always obvious, is it? But it is such a privilege to get to preach this great news. Such a privilege.
One reason that I’ve been reluctant to enter the blogosphere is that I am concerned that blog-writing and reading only adds to a bad tendency that we today already have–a fascination with the newest, latest, and most recent. And the newest and latest also often means that which is of only immediate value, that which is passing. That is opposed to that which is enduring, and which has in fact endured and lasted. We write words here which crawl along electronically and leap out through your fingers and eyes to take precious minutes and hours that the Lord has entrusted to us. Could these small things we write really be that important?
On the other hand, I had a wonderful time today at the South East Gospel Partnership in London. Here, I met friends old and new, and discussed Reaching, Building and Sending in the Local Church. Simon Smallwood (minister at Dagenham), Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Sydney) and a number of others spoke. Then I had the treat to have dinner with William & Janet Taylor (William is the minister of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate here in London), Dick Lucas (who was the minister before him) and Peter & Christine Jensen. The conversation was wonderful, encouraging, instructive and enjoyable. As I came home, I thought that perhaps through a blog like this, we can share something that will be enjoyable, instructive and edifying. Maybe we can model, encourage, and even partially provide that kind of fellowship.
Having said that, I am concerned that we not neglect reading more important things. Even beyond the Bible, there are 2,000 years of Christian reflections in print before we get to blogs. (Now let’s see if Al really reads these blogs!) I was reading recently about an earlier president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, John R. Sampey, and a "lightening" that was happening in theological education a century ago! Sampey recalled, “The course in ‘Special Theology,’ which was the successor of the course in ‘Latin Theology,’ was changed to ‘Biblical Theology.’ Under Dr. Boyce this course was limited to the reading of Latin; under Dr. Kerfoot and Dr. Dargan some reading of Latin was still required; Dr. Mullins gradually reduced the readings from Anselm and Turrettin, until in 1904-1905 only textbooks in English were studied.” (John R. Sampey, Memoirs, p. 109).
So be sure and set aside some time to read more substantial things. Commune with the saints that have gone before. Give some time to reading Anselm and Turretin, Samuel Rutherford’s Letters or John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. And if you still have some time, you can have some other food for your soul–side dishes–snacks–by reading this blog.
It just had to happen. And, in a strange sort of way, it even helps to make the point. All over the world people gather together because of what animates, excites, and unites them. Just look at the World Cup, Super Bowl, and Olympic crowds — rock concerts, political rallies, and movie openings. But we are together for the Gospel. Which is the ultimate point, after all. And it’s a really good thing in so many ways. If we were coming together about sports, I’d be left out. C J would be in, but in his current state of limping, it would be more theoretical than physical. Together for the Gospel, C J, in the church of Christ where we all love by God’s grace. Proud to be limping with you, my faithful friend.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why I am jazzed about the Together for the Gospel Conference. Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul will all be speaking! That lineup works for me. So let me get this straight. As part of my job I get to come to this conference and hear all these men teach? I can do this. So can you. Why wouldn’t you?
Furthermore, this conference doesn’t simply represent the world class lineup of aforementioned teachers. No, this conference is the fruit of genuine friendships among those teaching. The relational aspect of this conference is both unique and significant. I think all present will experience the fruit of these friendships through the teaching.
Finally and most importantly, I am excited about this conference because the gospel is central to this conference. T4G will make a loud statement to pastors about that which is, in Paul’s inspired words, of first importance: “ Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)”. At a time when many pastors are convinced they must be creative or innovative, this conference will remind all of us that we simply have to be faithful to that which is most important, the gospel. We want pastors to place their confidence in the gospel and to build their personal lives and local churches with the gospel. Please don’t misinterpret our excitement. We don’t think this conference is the only necessary conference for pastors, but we are convinced that the gospel is the only necessary message for pastors. And it will be our privilege and joy to serve each pastor at the conference with this glorious message.
OK, I would respond to CJ’s "Conversation Joined" but I can’t figure out how to post a comment. So this is going to be its own brief entry. I am in England preaching. I’ve spent the day with Matt Schmucker and others here at Oak Hill Theological College. Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Syndey) and I spoke in morning sessions to a gathering of students and pastors. And this afternoon, I met with independent (mainly Baptist) students. It’s great to see some of the good work that the Lord is doing here at Oak Hill. My access to the internet is limited, so my blogging will have to become more frequent and regular upon my return to the States.
I’ve got a busy week here coming up. Peter J & I are speaking at meetings across England (London, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leyland) and I’m to be preaching at Duke Street (Richmond), St Helens (London), Eden Baptist (Cambridge) and Spicer Street (Congregational), over this next week. Pray for me. I am always encouraged by the emphasis on expositional preaching that I find here among this strain of English (and Australian!) evangelicals. If you’re reading and you’re not familiar with Peter Jensen or Philip Jensen, then check out websites (that you can find through Google) with Sydney Anglican Diocese or St. Matthias Media.
As to CJ’s suggestion that I typed "Great Stuff", in fact I did not. That was Ryan Townsend in front of CJ’s own distracted face while Ryan was teaching CJ how to post a blog on this site!