May, 2007

Old Baptistries, old Baptists? and Ambrose

May 23, 2007

Dear friends, here are pictures taken by the ever-faithful Matt Schmucker.  The first picture is of a 4th-century baptistry in Ravenna.

Ravenna_baptistry_2 The second and third picturesMilan_baptistry_1 are of the 4th-century baptistry in Milan, in which Ambrose baptized Augustine.

Milan_baptistry_2 Lig, I could even fit in this baptistry!

Evangelicals know about Augustine, but we tend to be less familiar with Ambrose.  He was a fascinating figure in his own right.  Born in 339AD of an aristocratic Roman family, he trained to be an upper level Roman bureaucrat.  But he was elected bishop of Milan in 374, before he had even been baptized!  (That’s a long story, but let me simply say that immediately upon his election, he was baptized.)  He is the first figure from history that we know read silently.  He baptized Augustine in this pool on Easter, 387AD.  Ambrose was the same age then that I am now.  So when I was there, I prayed that God would lead people to Christ through my preaching, and that I would have the joy of baptizing those this year who would be of immense use to the kingdom.

There are some things about Ambrose that I don’t like.  He preached the OT allegorically.  (Augustine actually loved this!)  And he was one of the first to develop ideas of transubstantiation.

But there are many things about Ambrose that I DO like!  He thought the pastor’s main job was preaching Scripture.  Ambrose preferred to preach expositional series.  He believed that we would not know anything about God if God did not reveal Himself first.  He denied that any bishop was legally superior to any other, or that Peter had taught any kind of supermacy of one bishop over others.  He wrote hymns that became popular.  He was a staunch opponent of the Arian heresy.  He wore no special clerical dress (though neither did any other preachers at the time; that only came much later).

Ambrose broke fellowship with French pastors when they first used state power to carry out church punishments.  He led the way in using passive resistance to oppose state-sponsored injustices.  He made it clear that the power of the church was in no way dependent upon the state.  And he made this most clear in his dealings with the Roman emperor Theodosius, who resided in Milan 388-391.

During those years, Emperor Theodosius ordered the slaughter of thousands of innocents in Thessalonica.  The world was shocked.  Ambrose, as his pastor, excommunicated him.  He required the emperor to appear in church without his imperial regalia, and to confess his sins publicly and testify repentance of them before Ambrose would again admit him to the Lord’s table.  Citing Ezek 3:18, explaining that he himself would become guilty of Theodosius’ sin if he didn’t so rebuke him, Ambrose publicly opposed the emperor for some time.  Finally, Theodosius apparently relented, and came and confessed his sins to the congregation, just as Ambrose had required.  Theodosius was then again admitted to communion.

Ambrose fell sick in 397 and, when asked to pray for his own recovery, responded, "I have not lived among you in such a way, that I would have to be ashamed to live longer; but I am also not afraid of death, for we have a good Lord."  He died on April 4, 397.

And I also like the fact that Ambrose used a really big baptistry!

Augustine's baptism

May 19, 2007

OK, Lig. I’m still here in Italy, land of 4th century baptisteries!  We’re in Milan this weekend.  I stood today where Constantine issued his edict legalizing Christianity throughout the Empire.  I’m to preach again tonight and tomorrow morning, and then it’s back to the good ol’ US of A and home on Monday, Lord willing. 

In trying to redeem the time here, I have searched high and low for the pieces of early Christian history that continue to instruct us.  And today, dear brother, I saw another baptistery!  It was here in Milan, underneath the current cathedral in Milan.  The crowds of tourists were upstairs.  Pastor Sam and Matt Schmucker were the only ones with me, down underneath the floor, looking at the 4th century baptistery in which Pastor Ambrose baptized Augustine.  Now I’m not referring to Augustine’s (or Ambrose’s) theology of baptism; simply how they practiced it–and what kind of baptistery they practiced it in.  And Lig, I got to tell you, this one was big, too.  Really, really big.  Maybe bigger than the one in Ravenna!  Matt got a picture with me standing next to it.  Can’t wait to see if I can get these posted.  Thanks for your prayers.

And speaking of really big – John Piper Gets Gold

May 17, 2007

Thanks Mark. Can’t wait to see you, and see those pics – my beloved and persistent Baptist friend! Adrian Warnock has just posted a comment and wants to see them too. By the way, was it Augustine who called his baptistry "the Red Sea"? At any rate, I think Tenth Presbyterian in Philly has some architectural features that allude to a church in Ravenna.

But anyway, our dear T4G friend John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway Books, 2003) recently received a Gold Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Congratulations John. This means among other things that more than a half million copies of this book have been sold. Praise God for this wonderful influence!

Crossway describes Don’t Waste Your Life, as "John Piper’s plea to a generation to make their lives count for eternity." And this Gold Book Award is an indication that John’s message is resonating with many. As you all know, you can learn more about John and his ministry over at

A Really Big One

May 16, 2007

Hey Lig! Thanks for your prayers & posts. If I had known you would blog if I simply left the country, I might have left earlier! I am here speaking in Italy at two conferences (one is done, the other starts day after tomorrow). In the inbetween time, I am usually touring with my host during the day and preaching in the evening. Tonight I preached on Titus 1:9ff in Bologna–the duty of elders to rebuke false teachers and protect the flock. Anyway, during the day we were in Ravenna. There I saw something I cannot wait to show you a picture of–a baptistery that was really old (around the early 5th century, when Augustine was writing!!).  And get this, Lig.  This is the part that will really interest you–it was really, really, REALLY big!  Can’t wait to share the pictures with you!

Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth

May 14, 2007

Allow me to plug an upcoming event that is being jointly sponsored by 9Marks and Matthias Media, and hosted at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. It is called Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth.

Here’s what the conference is all about. It is designed for pastors, evangelists and ministry trainees, and it aims to provide instruction in biblical principles and practices for the promotion of God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Gospel-growth, as opposed to the kind of things often peddled as key to "church growth."

Why is there a need for a conference like this? Well, here’s how the good folks at 9Marks explain it: "It’s hard for pastors not to be mesmerized by church growth. Who doesn’t want their congregation to grow? Who doesn’t want to see numbers and budgets increasing year by year? And who isn’t greatly interested when the latest growth model comes along, the latest research, the latest insight that promises us the key to such growth? But there’s growth and there’s growth. Understanding what the New Testament means by growth, and how that growth happens, sets us free. It liberates us from anxiety and self-doubt, and from the slavery of chasing the latest program."

The speakers are Phillip Jensen, Mark Dever and Tony Payne. There will also be a forum with all three speakers answering questions and engaging in further exploration of the ideas. The conference is slated for Tuesday, October 30 through Thursday, November 1, 2007. Registration will begin at 2:00pm on Tuesday, and the conference will conclude by noon on Thursday.

The Noble Calling: Motherhood

May 12, 2007

The disparagement of the noble vocation of motherhood is virtually epidemic in our culture. But today, we have an culturally-supplied and providential opportunity to begin to put that right in our own thinking, attitudes, families and churches. Mother’s Day! Yes, the U.S. version has some has some dubious historical associations (though the U.K. "Mothering Day" has an older and more wholesome pedigree) and one of its early promoters/advocates/founders in the U.S. herself lamented its commercialization to the point of becoming an opponent of it! And no, I’m not advocating that we follow the "Hallmark Calendar of the Christian Year" in our churches.

But it is important for all Christians to take stock of the huge blessing of mothers whose primary vocational preoccupation is with their family, especially since so many today find it difficult to believe that familial duties and delights are in themselves capable of providing women with a sense of fulfillment or significance, or of being an adequate deployment of a woman’s gifts and abilities. Thabiti Anyabwile’s excellent post will get you thinking about how we can honor our mothers.

By the way, in exhorting Christians to honor their mothers and to appreciate motherhood, I do not intend any disrespect to or oversight of the many, many wonderful Christian women who are not mothers. On the contrary, we honor them. But we recognize that many today find it difficult to believe that motherhood is a sufficient expression of a Christian mother’s inherent gifting and potential.

So, I simply wish to remind those who are Christian mothers of the supreme importance of motherhood in the plan of God and to encourage them in their great task. For whatever else you are and do, nothing will be more important, more crucial, or more significant in the life of your children than your being a faithful Christian mother. I do not wish anyone to rob you of your sense of the value of what you do as a mother, or of your sense of the critical position of influence which the Lord has given you.

May I remind you how history has hung in the balance because of the influence of mothers? A casual glance at the record of Israel’s kings will remind you of the power which a mother can wield, for good or evil (cf 2 Kings 8:25-27; 11:1-2). Mothers are absolutely crucial in the formation of the spiritual character of their children. Think of Timothy, Paul’s "son" in the Lord. Yet his initial commitment to the Lord was not due to Paul’s influence. Under God, his mother (and grandmother!) had shown him the way of the Lord (2 Timothy 1:5). And remember Augustine — that great theologian of the early Church? It was his mother Monica who prayed him into faith in Christ, and trained him in word and deed about the life which Christ intends for his people. When he wrote his great devotional book —Confessions— after his mother’s death, he said: "I will not omit a word that I can bring to mind about my mother!" Praise be to God for good Christian mothers! May your husbands and children rise up and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:28).

Finally, we should all remember that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for many godly Christian women: those who have longed for the call to motherhood, but who have not received it; those who have suffered the loss of children; those who have straying children; those who once had the help of a spouse, but who now face the challenge of parenting alone; those who have painful memories of or difficult present relations with their own mothers. So, even as we honor our mothers, let us remember too these sisters in Christ in prayer, that they too may know God’s blessing, approval, and comfort.

By the way, our friends over at girltalk have some superb reflections for those struggling with wounded hearts on Mother’s Day.

A Short Version of the new T4G Video

May 11, 2007

Well, a number of you have mentioned that you’d like to see a shorter version of the new T4G video.

Here it is, Short T4G Video courtesy of the good folks at Ligonier Ministries. It may take a little time to download.

It is very quick-paced in comparison to the longer video housed at this site. But I’ll try to get this to the technical geniuses that service the T4G site so that they can upload it in a larger, better format. This video also has some cutaways that will give you a visual feel for the T4G ’06 gathering.

And don’t miss the out-take after the final fade. Can you hear what Al says, and how Mark responds?

Introducing Thabiti

May 9, 2007

Well, Mark’s away in Italy now, and I still haven’t answered his question about Ridderbos (though I will), but right now I want to tell our T4G friends a little more about the recently unveiled T4G mystery guest.

Thabiti Anyabwile our "surprise" speaker for T4G ’08 is a dear friend. He is perhaps no stranger to many of you, because of his preaching/speaking, blogging and book-writing. Thabiti has recently spoken at a number of major national ministers’ conferences (including the 2007 Desiring God Pastors’ Conference and the 2007 Twin Lakes Fellowship), he authors a superb blog called Pure Church, and he has also recently authored two books that are already making quite a splash.

The first one is called The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (and has a foreword by John Piper), and was just published by Crossway this year. This volume unearths hidden treasure for all ministers who would be faithful today from the lives of three outstanding African-American pastors from the past, who teach us, by precept and practice, what faithful ministry entails. As the Crossway site puts it: "Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833) reminds pastors that eternity must shape our ministry. Daniel A. Payne (1811–1893) stresses the importance of character and preparation to faithful shepherding. And Francis J. Grimké (1850–1937) provides a vision for engaging the world with the gospel."

The second book is still forthcoming, and is provocatively entitled: The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Accommodation, with a foreword by the outstanding historian Mark Noll (IVP, 2007). The title contains the thesis, which is documented by Thabiti across the years of his survey of prominent African-American theologians over the course of American history.

Thabiti (which is pronounced "tha-BEE-tee" – with the last syllable dropping off kind of like a "ty" at the end of a word like treaty) is a former elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He is now the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. He is a devoted Christian husband and father. Kristie is his loving wife, and they have three children – two daughters, Afiya and Eden, and a son, Titus. Thabiti holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in psychology from North Carolina State University, and also pursued doctoral work in that discipline. He is a former high school basketball coach and bookstore owner, and so (naturally) loves reading and sports.

Indeed, the last time the T4G posse was together in Louisville, Thabiti, C.J. and Johnny Mac put on a hoops clinic for the lads at SBTS (I’m told that John was draining threes – "Dr. J" anyone?). I, too, was once a basketball coach (about fifty pounds ago) – yep, at the University of Edinburgh [Scotland]; Go Dukes! – so if I can drop about "three stone" (you Scots out there will know what I mean) I may try to get out on the court with Thabiti, C.J. and John next time (while Mark and Al hang out in the bookstore!).

And, Thabiti loves Jazz. I mean real jazz, not the pop stuff. But he’s kind enough to humor my enjoyment of Bob James, Earl Klugh, George Benson, The Crusaders, and the like. Indeed, we’ve even reminisced by laying down a few riffs from the greatest pop R&B group of all-time – EW&F (fans will need no further identification of the incomparable "Elements"), not to mention rehearsing some lines from George Clinton’s "P-Funk" together. And Thabiti, as a man of impeccable discernment, properly understands the superiority of ACC basketball.

More seriously, Thabiti says: "I love the Lord because He first loved me. I love His people because He has given me a new heart. I was once a Muslim, and by God’s grace I have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. By God’s unfathomable grace I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which I hope to serve Him until He returns or calls me home!" Not surprisingly, Thabiti has often engaged in Christian apologetics in a Muslim context and some of his recent efforts are available on the web.

I cannot wait for you to get to know Thabiti, and to hear him preach. He is a gift to the church, and a treasured friend.