The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Unique Challenges of Seminary

By: Thomas F. Booher

The difference between Bible college and seminary is deep and wide, for me at least. There are many reasons for this, but the fundamental difference is that I am now preparing to be a minister of the Word of God. Better, I am now being prepared to be a minister of the Word of God. This is not the case at Bible college. Here are some challenges I have found peculiar to seminary:

1.) Private Worship:

No, it's not like you shouldn't do personal devotions and family worship before seminary. The point is, if you do not develop good habits of doing that now, you never will. And if you can't read the Word yourself devotionally and be regular in prayer at seminary, you simply aren't called to be a pastor, at least not yet. I am learning more and more the importance of reading the Word and communing with God. Studying passages for a class or report doesn't replace private, devotional worship. If you think it does, you will suffer. You need a relationship with God that isn't tied to a class requirement. You need to take the time to feed on Christ, because if you are too busy to do so, how can you demand your congregation to do so?

2.) Family Time

Similar matter. If you are trying to cram in Greek and watch a movie or play a game with your wife and/or children all at once, you aren't really having family time. You have to find the time to stop your school work, stop doing whatever you do to make some money, and devote quality time to your family, and not only devotionally but to simply have a good time. I have found having a new screaming baby a particularly difficult challenge for both my wife and I. Do not underestimate the importance of family time, and again, if you aren't making it now, why do you think you will later, and how can you teach your congregation to do so?

3.) Church Involvement/Fellowship

Guilty again. It's hard to be involved in church beyond showing up on Sundays, because of the busyness and juggling of multiple callings. I would not want to say that you have to do more than attend regularly of course, but to have fellowship with other believers is vitally important. Again, if I think I am too busy now while in seminary, I deceive myself if I think it will be easier once I am pastoring a church. Fellowship is necessary spiritually, and it's just another test for one preparing for the ministry.

4.) Theological "Minutiae":

I want to be careful here, but this is one of the main reasons I decided to write this post. In one seminary class we have discussed at length on at least two separate occasions whether or not it is acceptable to have a wooden cross behind the choir. This gets into the issue of graven images, and using images for worship. I have also heard that you can have stain glass windows, but only with geometrical shapes. Scenes from Scripture are off limits. Whatever your thoughts are on these issues, and however much I may think this is a waste of time, it does have to be discussed. Why? Because you are a pastor, and you have to know whether or not it is honoring to God to have a wooden cross in your sanctuary. Then, if you decide it isn't, you have to determine how to proceed in getting it down. Do you refuse to pastor a church with a wooden cross and stain glassed images? Do you take on the church and try, through the elders and over time, to convince them that it should be removed? Or do you deem it not a real temptation and just let it go, even though you are convinced from Scripture it ought not to be there? Or do you go in guns blazing and split the church over the issue? These types of issues you don't think about in Bible college. I didn't at least.

5.) Theology of Secondary Importance

This is the other sticky issue. While it's fun to think about premil, postmil, or amil in Bible college, its serious business in seminary. What about apologetics, are you Van Tillian or Clarkian, or classical? What about the style of worship music? What about politics, and if it is ever right for a government to give financial aid? Further, is it ever right for a member in your church, in dire straits and where you as a church cannot financially lift the burden, to accept government aid? What about social justice? Does the church have an obligation to minister to the poor outside the church? Is evangelism something individual members in the church do, or should their be organizations within your church to take the good news to this lost and dying world? At the seminary I attend, the Sabbath is all the rage, a very particular view and interpretation of the Sabbath. How do you view the Sabbath, and how will you instruct your congregation on it? What about counseling? Does the pastor and elders do all of it, is it ever permissible to have a counselor come in for a church member in need? If so, what kind of counselor, nouthetic? What are your views on the Lord's Supper, on Baptism, and sanctification? Even within Presbyterian circles, there is variance on these issues.

Once you decide what you believe, and it should take a careful study of Scripture and looking at each side of the debate (including reading the best each view has to offer), then you have to instruct your congregation on your views, and while some may have very little Scriptural understanding and be all too willing to mindlessly accept what you teach, others will have their own beliefs firmly established in their hearts, which will take years to uproot. And then, with matters of secondary importance, when is it necessary to uproot them, and when is it best to say, "I am not going to die on this hill, even though you are a Dispensational, Van Tillian, libertarian, classical music worshiping, super Sabbatarian, infralapsarian!" Maybe you adhere to some of those things, maybe all of them, maybe none of them, but you can be sure someone in your congregation will be some of these things, and this is where pastoral wisdom and guidance by the Holy Spirit is very much needed.

In the end, it is the gospel that is primary. It is the gospel that must be proclaimed for unbelievers and believers alike. A church that is together for the gospel should be able to weather the storms of theological minutiae and even secondary theological differences. Debate is needed, as well as charity, and even room for disagreement. But not on the gospel. I believe that the key to good pastoring and preaching is highlighting the gospel, our forgiveness and freedom in Christ, our purpose in serving Him and cultivating fruits of the Spirit. If we make this, the main thing the main thing, then, by God's grace, the other things will fall into place.

Of course, there is no guarantee that every church member will see the gospel and the gospel alone as primary, but if we keep that as the focus and pray that the sheep would do likewise, I believe the Lord will bless the church.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The #1 Reason Reformed Churches Struggle

By: Thomas F. Booher

2 Corinthians 13:5 is an exhortation for Christians to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. It says that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you fail the test. This is not because failing the test takes Christ from you, nor does the passage mean that passing this test is how you came into union with Christ in the first place. No, the reality is that passing this test is evidence that Christ is in you, because Christ works in believers both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). This test is a working out of your salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). It is a check on how well you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit.

In my experience, and taking the temperature as best I can of American reformed preaching and teaching today, it seems right to say that we are no longer preaching the necessity of sanctification in order to obtain final salvation. Put another way, it seems to me we do not really teach, or emphasize at the very least, the necessity of holiness, without which we will not see God (Heb 12:14).

Ask yourself if you have heard your preacher speak in such a manner as Peter does to fellow believers here in 1 Peter 1:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[c] his own glory and excellence,[d] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,[e] and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities[f] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers,[g] be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body,[h] to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
The job of the preacher, in addition to proclaiming and teaching the text that he reads, is to exhort us, to stir us up by way of reminder as Peter puts it. Verse 5 says "make every effort to supplement your faith with..." and then all those virtues are listed. We are to make every effort to do so? But why? Verse 9 says if you lack these qualities you are blind and have forgotten you were cleansed from your former sins. Verses 10-11 seem to indicate that an examination of yourself is in order, and how much of these qualities, these virtues are cultivated in you is an indication of how effective and fruitful a Christian you are (v.8). Further, v. 11 indicates that if you have these qualities an entrance into the eternal kingdom is richly provided for you. If you do not have these qualities, the indication is that you cannot be sure that you are truly saved.

We could look at the warning passages of Hebrews 6 and 10, or the parable of the four soils by Jesus in the gospels. I only wish to note that Jesus gives four scenarios for what can happen when someone hears the gospel: They can hear it, not understand it, and the devil takes the word away; they can hear it and receive it with joy, but only temporarily because they have no deep root and thus when trials come they abandon the faith; they can hear it but have it choked out because of the worries of this world and the love of money (which often go hand in hand); or, they can receive the word with gladness and bear forth much, fruit, even a hundredfold.

Now ask yourself, "What does my pastor say about those who are doubting their salvation, or those who are simply living a lax lifestyle toward Christ?" Does he rebuke them and plead with them to return to Christ and repent of sin? I hope so. My fear however is that unless there is some heinous and public sin, the reformed pastor today is no longer interested in the business of healing sin-sick souls. He is no longer interested in rooting out the cavities but rather allows them to fester  since, after all, Jesus has accepted you with all your rotten teeth. Too many pastors in general, including reformed pastors, turn into Rob Bell when handling their flock. They become Joel Osteen and assure them that all is well, since they have good theology and have faith in their faith that they really believe that Jesus loves them and is no longer angry with them since they are forgiven through Him (or something like that).

But... that's not what Jesus said in the parable of the four soils. You can say you have faith all you want, but the proof is in the works. The proof is in the bearing of fruit. True faith works, as James makes clear in 2:14-26. He also says that faith without works is dead, which is to say, it is not a saving faith.

Saving faith produces fruit, which is what Jesus was saying in the parable of the four soils. And this fruit is the fruit of the Spirit, some of which are seen in the qualities that Peter says we must produce to make our calling and election sure.

Salvation occurs when a regenerated heart places faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, and thus union with Christ occurs. That union secures justification and forgiveness of sins, but imagine if that union were severed? I am not saying that it can be, I am asking you to ponder what would happen if it were? If union with Christ is necessary in order for Christ's righteousness to be imputed to us, and our sins to be seen by the Father as paid for by the Son, then the severance of that union would mean the loss of the imputation, would it not? I think Scripture makes abundantly clear that the elect cannot and will not fall away. Having said that, let's look at what Jesus says in John 15:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[a] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throwthem into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We are commanded to abide in Christ. If one does not abide, one is taken away and cast into fire, or into hell if you will. If you abide in Christ, you do bear much fruit. It follows then that a lack of abiding in Christ is evidenced by a lack of fruit bearing. It also indicates that we have a responsibility ourselves to abide in Christ. In other words, abiding is not a passive thing. It is an active thing, and failure to do so gets you removed from Christ and thrown into hell. How do we abide in Christ then? By faith working. Which is to say, by exercising our faith. It is my belief that true saving faith is a persevering faith, one which will not forsake Christ when trials and tribulations come because of Christ, will not forsake the Lord and Savior when many worries come in this world, or when entertainment and money are an alluring temptation. The perseverance of the faith is the means by which we abide in Christ. Those who do not persevere are shown not to have true saving faith, did not have deep roots, were choked out in due time.

The problem is that some pastors today instill an almost cavalier attitude toward assurance of salvation. They tell their congregants simply to trust that Christ loves them, and almost seem to heap guilt on them if they doubt that they are saved. But this is not what Scripture says, especially Christ. Christ says if we do not love Him more than anyone or anything else, if we do not take up our crosses  daily and follow Him, then we are not worthy of Him and cannot be His disciples. Scripture says to examine yourself and to test yourself to see if you are in the faith, and the way that is done is by examining the fruit in your life, which is accomplished only by the working of faith.

Professing Christian, are you saved? Do you examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, or have you simply assumed it? Assurance of salvation is something we ought to pursue and achieve, but it is never something we should claim to have apart from examination, and that examination, like repentance, ought not be a one time thing.

Believing parent, are you teaching your children to examine yourself, or are you teaching them to simply trust blindly that they are saved because you yourself assume blindly that they are saved, perhaps even when evidence of a sinful lifestyle is screaming at you in the face?

Finally, Pastor, are you preaching to your congregation to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, or are you teaching a reformed version of easy-believism?

Let us all be like Peter, stirring one another up to good works and fruitfulness in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.