The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Does it Mean to be Saved by Christ? (A Gospel Tract)



Thomas Booher
AT 41 Christian Education
November 24, 2015

                Hello, I’m Thomas Booher. I’m guessing if you are reading this that you already understand that I want to tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and how you can be saved by Him, too. You may or may not have heard of Jesus before, but if you live in the United States, especially within the Bible belt, my guess is that you likely have. I believe that Jesus is God, but also became man some 2,000 years ago. In fact, He’s fully God and fully man, and He had to be both in order to die on a cross in such a manner that man’s sins could be paid for and Christ’s Father, who is the God of all things, would no longer be angry with sinners, like you and me, for their sins.
                I wanted to succinctly express the point of this tract up front so that you can understand the gravity of what I am saying, and also so you can decide right away if this is something you are interested in reading. Are you concerned about the guilt you experience for the wrong that you do? Do you have any desire to find out about the God who made all things? Do you want to know the meaning and purpose of your existence? I plan to address each of these questions for you, and I hope by the end you will understand the meaning of life, and the greatest need of each man – to find new life in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
                So let’s begin by addressing the title of this tract – what does it mean to be saved by Christ? In order to need salvation, one must be in some sort of danger, and must have no ability by which to save himself. The bad news is that this is your very situation. Your eternal destiny is out of your control. You have no power in yourself to save yourself from your sins. Sin is a failure to obey God’s law, either by doing something that breaks His rule (do not lie, kill, steal, take God’s name in vain, etc.), or by failing to do something that His law commands (love God, love others, value life, etc.). Sin began in the human race with the very first human beings, Adam and Eve; God placed them in a garden in order to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). God made mankind in His image, after His likeness, to rule and reign on His behalf over His creation (Gen. 1:26). The very first verse in the Bible tells us that God made all things, and if God has made all things, He owns all things. Not only did God make all things, but He made them from nothing. This just means that God did not need any help making everything – He has the power to make all things by His own power. Something, or rather Someone, had to be eternal, self-existent, and powerful, otherwise nothing would have ever existed. If at some point in time there was nothing (not even time), then there never would have been anything, because you can never get something from nothing. But God is a very great something. He is eternal being, and His being is dependent upon no one, and no thing. All other being is dependent on His being, because He is the maker and sustainer of all life (Acts 17:28). There is a fundamental distinction, then, between the Creator, God, and the creation which is man and the whole universe that He made. There are really two levels of being, with God on a level all by Himself, as the eternal, self-existent being, and man and all else on an infinitely lower shelf as finite, dependent being. This should help you understand that God is powerful, worthy of praise, and owns mankind so that He has the right to do whatever He wishes with His own creation. Whatever we make, we make from material that God has already made, and yet we claim what we make as our own masterpieces, fit to be used however we wish. If we apply that logic to our own creations, how much more must we apply that logic to ourselves, because we are God’s creation!
                When God created Adam and Eve, He created them without sin, without defect. They were given freedom to eat the fruit of any tree, except the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate that fruit, God said they would die (Gen. 2:17). Yet the devil, appearing in the form of a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God’s clear command and eat the forbidden fruit. He told them that they would not die, but rather that they would become as wise as God, discerning good and evil. In essence, the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding not only good fruit from them, but wisdom itself, and that if they laid hold of this fruit, they could somehow become as wise as God Himself, giving them the right to make their own decisions apart from God. You should recognize that this is foolishness, and that if God is eternal and made man, man could not possibly be as wise or powerful as that which created him. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, rather than submit to His good, loving, and righteous authority, and ate the forbidden fruit. Their eyes were opened alright, but it didn’t disclose some higher, hidden wisdom – their eyes were opened to their nakedness, and they were ashamed (Gen. 3:7). Their nakedness indicated to them that they could not protect and provide for themselves. It was God who made them, and it was God who fed them in the garden. It was also God who had protected them by warning them of the forbidden fruit, and it was God who gave them a clear directive on how to stay alive and not give in to the evil words of the serpent. This must have been a horrific moment when Adam and Eve understood fully what evil they had done. No wonder that they fled from God’s presence! Because of your sin, you too flee from God’s presence and suppress His truth in unrighteousness, and on account of this rebellion God is as angry with you as He was when Adam and Eve sinned against Him and fled from His presence (Rom. 1:18-19).
                You may be wondering why Adam and Eve didn’t fall over dead the moment they sinned. Didn’t God promise they would die if they sinned? You are right, He did. They did begin to die physically. Their body was now subject to decay, and God cursed women with pain in childbearing, men with pain in tilling the earth by the sweat of their brow amidst thorns and thistles, and marital strife entered the picture (Gen. 3:16). They began to suffer and were moving in the trajectory toward physical death, but don’t miss the fact that they also died instantly spiritually. What I mean is, their life with God, their love for Him, their spiritual innocency by which they could bask in God’s immediate presence and freely serve Him, was gone. We call this the Fall of man. Adam and Eve had plummeted into spiritual death, and had aligned themselves with Satan by obeying his word rather than God’s, their maker. Their hearts had been darkened, and now their sinfulness would be transmitted on down to each of their children. Since Adam and Eve are the first parents of the human race, that means that all of us have inherited a sin nature from them (Rom. 5). Your sinful deeds show that you are a child of the devil, and not of God (1 Jn. 3:8-10), just as Adam and Eve’s deeds showed where their true allegiances lie.
                Yet a way of escape from sin was also provided. God did not abandon Adam and Eve. He loved them, for He made them and their posterity for a purpose. He had covenanted with them, agreeing to be their God and provide for them, requiring only that they not eat the forbidden fruit. Yet, He had a plan all along to allow them to plummet into sin so that He could glorify His Son, Jesus Christ, by having Him become the hero of history who swoops into time, as a man on earth, to live a perfectly righteous life (succeeding where Adam and Eve had failed) and die a perfectly atoning death for His chosen people’s sins (something He, as the God-Man, alone could do). Christ’s sacrificial death would satisfy God’s wrath for Adam and Eve’s sin and the sins of all who trust in Christ as the one way back to God and His presence once again, and because Christ would defeat the wages of sin, death, Christ would rise again, triumphant over the grave, sin, and the devil. This future provision was immediately foreshadowed after Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3:15, where it is revealed, though cryptically, that one will come from the seed of man that will topple all the evil that the devil had accomplished with his lie, meaning the curse of sin and death would be undone by this one man. This man would be Jesus Christ. God also showed that Adam and Eve’s nakedness, their sin, would be covered by Him, as He made for them garments of skins for clothing (Gen. 3:21).
                Because God is perfect holiness, He cannot be in the presence of unholiness, of sinners. Or rather, sinners cannot stand to be in the presence of a holy God, lest they be consumed because of their wickedness in light of perfect goodness. So God drove them away from His presence to work the land outside the Garden of Eden. Man was now separated from God, but this is the consequence of sin. He must continue his purpose of filling the Earth and subduing it, but now do so under the curse of sin on himself and the land. All this happens in just the first 3 chapters of the first book of the Bible. God’s plan to redeem His people is seen in these very first 3 chapters, and this pattern of God’s gracious loving of His people, His people rebelling against Him, and His driving them out in judgment in order to make payment for their sins and lead them to repentance and recommitment to Him, is a repeated pattern in Scripture, culminating in the incarnation of Christ Himself. Everything after Genesis 3 is really about getting back into God’s good graces, back in His presence, freed from sin, back to a state of innocency and perfection and joyful obedience to God. But now man is scarred with sin, and the earth groans with man under the curse of sin as we await what we hope to be redemption (Rom. 8:22-23).
                I imagine you feel something of this groaning, of this travail within your soul. You recognize that not all is right in the world, or in yourself. People physically and emotionally harm one another; people die because of lack of food and water. Some people have lots of money, not by hard work but by what you might call luck; others have little despite their hard work on account of what you might call a bad break. In reality though, all these decisions, all that occurs, whether good or bad, is part of God’s sovereign plan (1 Chr. 29:11-12; Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:21). Remember, if He is the Creator, and if He is really in control, He has the right to do as He pleases, and He must plan all things from the beginning if He is really to be in control of history. Otherwise, we would be in control, and we see what a mess we have made of things! So believe me, you want a God who is both good and sovereign. In fact, God cannot be good if He is not sovereign, because then He would be deficient, lacking some strength, and if He did not have a good purpose for man’s sin, then we would have to question why He allowed us to sin in the first place. No, as I mentioned before, God predestined that man would sin so His Son could come as the second Adam, fulfilling all that the first Adam failed to fulfill, in order to glorify Himself, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in those who believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior to convict them and the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 15). And at the same time, it is man alone who sins of their own will; God does not force them to sin against their wills. This is mysterious, but it is what the Bible teaches, and it is no more mysterious than God’s making everything from nothing. As God alone is Creator, Go alone is also Sustainer, and Director, of all that happens in His creation.
                God even predestined His Son’s own death by the hands of the very people who had Him crucified (Acts 4:27-28). Surely God would not do this unless this was His plan all along. Surely God loves His own obedient Son more than His rebellious creatures! No, if this was not God’s plan from the beginning, then God is a terrible Father to His Son, and is not worthy of worship. But if sin was planned by God in order to make the world the platform for the drama of redemption accomplished through His Son, then God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are worthy of all the praise and adoration we puny beings can muster. John 17 tells us that Christ came to glorify His Father, and that Christ, in both His sinless life and sacrificial death, would be glorified by His Father as well. In the end, all creation is a glory story, all that happens has been orchestrated by God to magnify His Trinitarian glory, by which I mean that God is three persons, yet one being, expressed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons glorify one another, and God made a people whom Christ would redeem from sin so that they too could glorify Him for who He is and all that He has done in mercifully saving some people. Glorifying God for His saving you through Christ is the salvation that is offered. Salvation is not a means to life enhancement, bigger cars and better food; no, God does not work for you. Rather, you must work for God -- that is simply your duty and reasonable service (Luke 17:10; Rom. 12:1), and the sacrificial lifestyle of Christ, and later Paul the apostle, are the human examples that you must follow.  
                You may be thinking this is all very interesting, but that I have skipped over an awful lot. Isn’t there something in the Bible about the people of Israel, animal sacrifices, wilderness wanderings, temple worship and the like? There is, but these can be explained very briefly for the purpose of this tract once you understand who Christ is and what His purpose on earth was. In fact, as you will see, the Old Testament points forward to, and helps clarify, the work of Christ on earth. Israel was a nation chosen by God, not because of any goodness in them, for they too were children of Adam and therefore spiritually dead in their sins. But God, in order to make His name great and keep His promises, freed them from slavery in Egypt by destroying Pharaoh and his pursuing armies in a sea that he parted so that Israel could escape  (Ex. 14; Deut. 7:6-10; Rom. 9:17). God’s choosing Israel was a defining step in the process that would lead to Christ dying to purchase His spotless, sinless bride. The bride of Christ would be called the true Israel, comprised not just of Jews, but all Gentiles who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation (Gal. 3:26-29). Now, the Israelites were sinners like the rest of us, and so they needed to understand that their sins for violating the ten commandments that God had given them through Moses (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) had to be paid for by someone else if they were really going to be God’s people and have that kind of intimate relationship with Him. Christ had not yet come to pay for sin, so God required that animals be sacrificed, spotless ones, indicating the sacrifice had to be sinless, teaching Israel their need for a sinless Savior. However, through faith in God’s provision, when Israel sacrificed an animal, they were really trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior, even though He had not yet come to the earth. They did not fully understand how God would provide salvation for their sins, but they did understand that the animal sacrifices pointed to a time when God would provide the ultimate sacrifice that would be slain once to permanently purge the sin of many (Heb. 10:1-14). Sadly, Israel often showed their sinfulness and lack of faith by not only continuing to sin, but also by failing to faithfully offer up sacrifices for their sins. They lacked repentance, and began worshiping false gods – idols they carved out of wood and fashioned from gold – rather than the living God of heaven who made them. They even said that these false gods were the ones that delivered them from Egypt (Ex. 32:4)! They grumbled and complained about the bread God provided them while they wandered about between Egypt and the Promised Land, which God said they would inherit and flourish in if they obeyed Him. Of course, this Promised Land inherited upon condition of obedience recalls the Garden of Eden, doesn’t it? If they obeyed God, things would go well for them, but if they disobeyed, well, things wouldn’t go so well. Israel, like Adam, disobeyed, showing they are truly children of Adam and the devil and in need of a Savior, and like Adam, they were exiled from the Promised Land and brought under captivity (1 Chr. 9:1). The difference is that they entered the Promised Land as sinners already in need of a Savior (hence the animal sacrifices), whereas Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden without sin or need for a Savior. If Adam and Eve failed while sinless, it is no wonder that their fallen children would fail to keep covenant with God, even with the sacrificial system in place.  
                Prior to their captivity, God commanded the Israelites to construct a tabernacle, and later a temple, where in the innermost sanctum His presence would dwell again with His people. Of course, only the high priest could go in to this most holy place to offer up a sacrifice for the sins of the people once a year, and even he had to make atonement by sacrifice for his own sins (Heb. 9:6-14) before he could go into the shrouded presence of God behind the veil of the holy of holies. Remember, God’s perfection demands perfection in His presence. Christ became the great high priest par excellence, because He went into the presence of God weighed down with our sin, without a sacrifice to offer in His place. No, the sacrifice He offered on behalf of His people was Himself, and that made all the difference in the world in the eyes of God His Father (Heb. 9:14). Bull’s blood did not ultimately satisfy, but Christ’s blood did.
                Christ also came as King of His people because He led them as a man, gathering disciples and calling all people to follow Him and His rule. Israel demanded a king before Christ came, so God gave them a fallen King of the line of Adam, and, as you might have guessed, the king’s sinned and did not lead the people well. Israel needed a sinless King, King Jesus, and if you are to become a Christian and wish to be forgiven of your sins, you too must submit to the Lordship, the Kingship, of Christ. You must not be rebellious like Adam and Eve, but repent of your sin and pledge allegiance to Christ and His Word as it is revealed in Scripture. Allegiance to Christ runs deeper than blood, than patriotism, than your own personal wishes and desires. In fact, Christ’s rule should shape and transform your desires into His desires, for He is the Sovereign King of all.
                Christ was also the ultimate prophet, of which Israel had plenty of to remind them of God’s will and word. They needed this reminder constantly because they were continually sinning and forgetting what God wanted them to do! Christ was the perfect prophet because He perfectly revealed the will and very character of the Father. In fact, He was the incarnate Word of God (Jn. 1). Christ was God, and so all that He did in the flesh represented God’s will, and all that He said was what His Father had sent Him to say (Jn. 12:49). If we were made in the image of God, how much more was Christ, the God-Man, the perfect representation of His Father in human form (Heb. 1:3)? Christ is the King who rules His people, the prophet who revealed the Father to His people, and the priest who died for His people. Where the likes of David and Samuel and Aaron fell short as king, prophet, and priest, Christ took these offices and fulfilled them perfectly for His people.
                I hope this is beginning to crystallize in your mind. All the Old Testament Scriptures really anticipates the coming of Christ, and all the New Testament, after the gospels which relates the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, looks back on the significance of Christ’s life and shows the work of His Spirit in the early church. The cross of Christ, His death and subsequent resurrection, is the most important event in all of human history. It is what God had predestined all of human history to build toward, and it is what the Father predestined all of human history to remember and honor above all else, for all time, after it was accomplished. Because of your sin, and mine, Christ had to die. Sin is serious, and we want a God who takes evil seriously. We don’t want to live forever with a God who thinks lightly of sin and rebellion and permits it in His presence. We want eternal life to be a place purged of sin, free from even the possibility of it, and that is exactly what is offered to you through Christ. Christ lived the perfect, sinless life you could never live, and died the perfectly satisfying death, suffering the Father’s wrath for sin and quenching it, thereby dying the death you could never die. You will either live and die in your own sins and suffer in hell, where God’s wrath is poured out forever, or you will live and die wrapped in the righteousness of Christ and dwell with Him forever (Mt. 25:46).
                Today, God calls all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, according to what they have done (Acts 17:30-31). Your only hope, friend, is that you cling to the cross of Christ as your refuge, as your atonement. Christ was dead in the grave for three days, but He rose from the dead because He swallowed up all His Father’s wrath for sin. Justice was served through Christ’s death for sin, and in that justice you can have new, resurrection life by mercy and grace. Christ died to purify a people for Himself who are zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). The question is, are you zealous for God? Do you want Him, His righteousness, His will, for your life? Do you desire to live sacrificially like Christ did for sinners because you have sensed that living for God is what you were created to do, and what you ought to have been doing all along? If so, I have good news. The Spirit is stirring in your heart. He is leading you to the cross. Trust in Christ, His sinless life for your righteousness, and His sacrificial death as payment for your sins, and then follow Him. Study the Word of God, begin perhaps in the gospel of John. Let me show you a good, Bible believing, Calvinistic church, and become a member of it so that you can identify as part of the body of Christ, as part of one of His redeemed people. Then go, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, for this summarizes all of God’s commands, His holy will for you  as a creature made in His image, after His likeness (Matt. 22:37-40). And though you will sin in this life as a Christian, if you confess your sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive you of them (1 John 1:9) and will continually cleanse you of all unrighteousness, because Christ stands forever as your great high priest and advocate before the Father. And when He returns for His people who have become a holy nation and royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) or calls you home to be with Him, there will be a great wedding feast, where you will be presented as the spotless bride of Christ (Rev. 19:6-9), and you will rule and reign with Christ and all His people forever (2 Tim. 2:12) in His immediate presence, just as it was in the Garden of Eden. Yet now you will stand, not by your own obedience before Him, but by the blood of Christ, to the praise of His glory, which you will sing of forever.
                So this is my answer to the questions that I posed to you at the beginning. Through Christ, your sin and guilt is washed away, being swallowed up by Christ’s glory. You can once again be with God who made all things and has the whole world in the palm of His hands, and you can now live for what you created to live for without soul-damning, enslaving sin hanging around your neck (Rom. 6). You were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is your purpose, if you indeed have been chosen by His grace to be called one of His saints. But make no mistake -- whether you turn to Christ and live, or reject Him and die, God will be glorified through you. So turn and live rather than die! Find precious life, eternal life, true joy and fellowship with the Triune God! Do not delay, for today could be the day that He calls you before Him to give an account of the deeds that you have done in your body. On that day, you will know your condemnation is just, and your only plea will be Christ, so turn to Him now, walk with Him, and live among His redeemed people, experience what it means to be saved by the blood of Christ, and find untold treasures in fellowship with Him forever!                 

Reformed Schools and Non-Reformed Students



Thomas Booher
AT 41 Christian Education
November 24, 2015

            Should children who are not Reformed be allowed to attend a school that is Reformed? One may wonder how a school can be Reformed if its students are not. The argument will be that it is the curriculum and the teachers that make a school distinctly Reformed, regardless of the personal convictions of the children (and their parents) who attend the school. In order that the Reformed witness not be diluted, however, certain parameters must be established, and certain concessions must be made by the parents and their children who are not Reformed.
          A Reformed school must have a Reformed curriculum, and teachers that affirm the Reformed faith. If the teachers are not Reformed, they cannot accurately disseminate biblical teaching as the school defines it, even if the curriculum itself is Reformed. It is necessary that there is basic agreement concerning the gospel, the doctrines of grace, and the main points of the Reformed faith. Perhaps affirmation of the Westminster Confession of Faith should be required for teachers, though some may argue for broadness and a more general statement of faith of which the teacher promises to uphold and honor.
          Starting a school with such strenuous prerequisites is not an easy task. The present writer is a dean at a relatively new classical, Christian school that has Reformed curriculum for its history, theology, and literature (and he teaches these subjects). While some of the faculty is Reformed, others are not, though they do not teach subjects that bear as directly on the Reformed worldview. Nevertheless, because all subject matter should be taught from a consistent worldview, this poses a potential problem. The difficulty comes in finding Reformed teachers who are qualified in every field of academia offered at a Reformed school. Should the school not exist simply because a Reformed math or Latin teacher is unavailable? Or should these subjects not be taught? The matter is debatable, but it must be recognized that the school is not thoroughly Reformed when some of its teachers, even in less directly relevant fields, are not themselves Reformed. Their worldviews will necessarily be expressed in the classrooms, and the students will pick up on it, and perhaps even notice the tension between the Latin teacher’s worldview and the Logic teacher’s. Chapel messages are restricted to pastors and elders who are Reformed, which helps maintain the Reformed character of the school, but in the trenches this message will not consistently be applied so long as non-Reformed faculty is present.
          At this classical Christian school, children of all denominations are permitted to enroll. There is one Roman Catholic student, which is a unique situation because her mother is Lutheran while the father is Roman Catholic. Does this make it permissible for the student to attend? The question that must be answered is whether or not the child affirms that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If works are necessary in order to be saved, the child is not a true believer, and therefore is disqualified from admittance because she is not a Christian. This should be the litmus test that all students must pass, as well as their parents. At least one parent needs to be a believer since the parent is obligated to raise his children in the ways of the Lord (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4) and instruct them in all fields of academia, since all the world – everything -- reveals God (Ps. 19).
          The family and school must likewise work together, not apart from each other. Neither can do its job well if communication and coordination is not occurring regularly between the two. Likewise, weak churches will adversely affect the students and their quality of education. When school, church, and family pull in the same direction, the child benefits, but when each pulls in opposing directions, the child is stretched and torn apart. This is perhaps the strongest argument against permitting non-Reformed students into a Reformed school – by the nature of their life situation, they are getting at least two, if not three different messages from their parents, their school, and their church. The good news is that the Spirit can use such a messy situation to lead the child closer to the truth as revealed in His Word, and it should be argued that it is better for the child to get a Reformed voice from one of these three prongs than to hear a three-headed voice of error. If the Lord wills, the child may even come around to the Reformed faith, and as the parents help their children with the Reformed curriculum, they may as well. This would likely lead the parents, in due time, to leave their non-Reformed church and find a Reformed one. The Reformed school should have such high aspirations, but must not be na├»ve about things. The likelihood of this occurring in droves is, from the human perspective, slim; conflict is more likely to emerge, but life this side of heaven is more often conflict than it is not, and through the conflict can come greater unity.    
          To help diffuse potential conflict with parents (and students), all parents must understand from the outset that the curriculum of the school is unapologetically Reformed. While other positions that fellow believers and denominations uphold will be respected, they will neither be agreed with nor taught. In fact, they must be challenged and shown to be unscriptural, by appealing to God’s Word itself, if the Reformed worldview it to truly be promoted as most biblical. The goal of a Reformed school is to produce a holistic Reformed worldview within the mind and heart of each student, so that they will worship and serve the Lord in spirit and in truth, which is just the kind of worship the Father seeks (Jn. 4:23-24). If the parents understand the agenda of the school from the outset and are still willing to enroll their children, all is well. This will provide both challenges and opportunities to the faculty and the student body. The teacher must be able to defend the Reformed faith over against children who are either unpersuaded or unaware of it in a loving and winsome manner, and will also have to answer questions that concerned parents will inevitably raise. Tensions could rise between students of different denominations, and the teacher must be skilled in calming the class. The student must learn to handle those from different theological backgrounds, which produce different lifestyles, and recognize that those with differing beliefs are also brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a hard lesson but a healthy one for the child to learn, and is one of the best arguments for having non-Reformed students in a Reformed school. There may come a point, however, where hostility between different students and parents outweighs any gains that could be made, necessitating the dismissal of some students from the school. In these matters, discernment and wisdom are vital, and that only comes through study, prayer, and experience.
          Healthy class debates can be held, either formally or informally, to help facilitate thought provoking discussion. The Socratic method of teaching is beneficial, and in some situations may prove indispensable, in a Reformed school where the student body comes from various denominations. This will sharpen the student’s ability to debate and dialogue with opposing viewpoints, answer challenging questions on the spot, and the hope is that each student will return to the Scriptures as the final arbiter of truth. This helps reveal what is tradition in the student’s life, what is truly biblical, and what is simply adiaphora. Through diligence, care, and prayer, the numbers of Reformed believers may increase as non-Reformed parents and their children are introduced to, and persuaded of, an integrated and seamless theology that incorporates all of Scripture to all of life. Even if some students maintain some reservations about the Reformed faith, they will likely embrace elements of it, and perhaps later in their life imbibe it in total. The committedly Reformed students will be exposed to non-Reformed traditions and should grow in thankfulness for their Reformed heritage and also learn how to defend it more skillfully.
          Related to the question of non-Reformed believers in a Reformed school is the question of non-Reformed believers in a Reformed parish school. The school where the present writer teaches is not a parish school, but the same model could be followed if it were a parish school, sans the non-Reformed instructors. A Reformed parish school could not in good conscience allow those of a different theological persuasion to teach in its school, because a true understanding of Reformed teaching reveals that one cannot teach without some sort of presupposition, and that presupposition will either be thoroughly Reformed, or not. If true teaching is to take place, it must always take place within a context, as Adam and Eve were given life and taught within the context of the covenant God made with them. Likewise, the student and teacher engage in a sort of bond with one another, and their view of God, His sovereignty, and how man is saved comes to bear directly in every field of study, including mathematics. Two plus two equals four not because of some abstract law that stands over God, but because God has composed the universe to follow a certain mathematical structure, which displays His beauty, harmony, and order. God is Lord of numbers just as much as He is Lord of salvation. But for the grace of God, the unregenerate would be just as helpless to understand mathematical equations as he would be to understand his own depravity and need for salvation.
          A Reformed math teacher will not merely personally believe this to be true, but will emphasize this fact in the classroom, and explain that Christ came to die so that even math itself could be understood and appropriated properly by those made in His image, in order that Christians could rightly exercise dominion over His creation by discovering math’s potential and then cultivate it in architecture and the like. A non-Reformed math teacher will not be able to do this grand concept justice, because he or she is not fully committed to, or cognizant of, God’s sovereignty over all things, the relationship of all things to each other (because God is harmonized complexity, the three in one, the proof that unity and diversity are equally ultimate, which solves the problem of the one and the many), and the true nature of man’s depravity which precipitates the effectual atonement of Christ on the cross for the elect. And if such a math teacher can do justice to all these things, then he is Reformed, whether he knows it or not!
          The question this paper answers may be viewed through the lens of church membership. In Reformed churches, it is not required that a member believe everything in the Westminster Confession of Faith (or similar confessions and catechisms). To become a member in the PCA, the following five questions must be answered in the affirmative:
  1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save [except] in His sovereign mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
  4. Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
          Such a confession does not require one to believe in predestination precisely as Reformed believers understand it (though His sovereignty in salvation must be recognized), nor does it require belief in limited atonement or similar Reformed doctrines. It does, however, require belief in Christ as Lord and Savior, reliance upon Him alone, and not works, for salvation, and a striving to live righteously as a Christ-follower by the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, the church must be supported in its worship and work, and submission to its government and discipline must be coupled with pursuit of its purity and peace through study. Such a model should likewise be followed at a Reformed school. Students do not have to be Calvinists, but they must be Christians (meaning they rest in Christ alone for salvation and not in faith and works as Roman Catholic doctrine teaches concerning one’s justification), and so should at least one of their parents (paralleling vows taken by parents at an infant baptism). Parent and child must also see the Reformed school as a means to being a better follower/disciple of Christ, and must swear to support the school in its work, and its curriculum, by submitting to the school’s authority which the parent has placed upon the child, in order that the school’s peace and purity may be maintained. In fact, it may be advisable to adapt these five membership questions of the PCA into enrollment questions for the student and parents seeking to gain admittance into a Reformed school. Doing so reinforces the concept that school, family, and church should be held together and work in harmony as mutual supports to one another.

          If the basic principles outlined above are followed in a Reformed school, it will be able to not only stand in Reformed soil while reaching out to plant new seeds without compromise, but also transplant struggling plants from deficient soil into the rich soil of the Reformed faith (the non-Reformed students and their parents). By God’s grace, such weak plants will revive in the richer soil, and become as healthy and vibrant as the plants around it. Such a daring undertaking is more challenging, but it is also more rewarding for both the Reformed student and non-Reformed student, and as such the kingdom of God grows as deeper roots are laid and walls are fortified. As the young people are bolstered in their knowledge of God and the world, they are equipped to go out into the world, not only to maintain their faith, but to contend for the faith that was once delivered to all God’s people (Jude 1:3) and be salt and light to this lost and dying world.  Would that such a vision for the Reformed school take hold of Reformed churches and parishioners everywhere, so that a revival of Reformed theology may take place even today, and God’s truth shine forth as brightly as the sun!        

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: The Pastor-Evangelist (The Pastor's Role in Evangelism)

Below is a rough draft of a paper on evangelism that I wrote for seminary.



Thomas Booher
AT 41 Reformed Evangelism
November 23, 2015

                The Pastor-Evangelist sheds light on the minister’s duty and role in evangelism. The book offers a comprehensive yet concise panorama of the different means of proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers, such as preaching, prayer, small groups, Sunday school, lifestyle, and hospitality evangelism. Interspersed are more doctrinally focused chapters relating to Christ’s example as the ultimate pastor-evangelist, kingdom evangelism, revitalizing a dying church, and practical measures on how to implement these evangelistic methods in the local church. Each chapter is written by a different author, keeping the reading fresh, but some chapters are more compelling (and more biblical) than others. Brief attention will be given to each chapter’s contents, with remarks mixed in, and a summarizing conclusion will follow.
                Roger Greenway writes about Jesus being the perfect model of the pastor-evangelist in chapter one. He says that the separation of practice from theory in the minister’s evangelistic education is one of the chief causes of lack of growth in the church today. Yet he contends that pastoral evangelism is not an option, but a biblical mandate.[1] As Jesus went to seek and save the lost sheep, so the minister must look for God’s lost sheep, and bring them into the sheepfold of the church. Peter and Paul blended ministry to the churches with ministry to the lost, and in Acts 20, Paul makes that the model for the other elders to follow. Greenway says that in the course of the pastor’s regular ministry he should be evangelistic in his outlook and make opportunities to reach out to unbelievers.[2]  He must also teach his elders first, and then the whole congregation, that they too have a role to play in evangelizing within their community. Deacons also assist with connecting unbelievers in the community with the elders of the church. The three main ways the minister engages in evangelism is by teaching and preaching it, by modeling it in his life, and by organizing the church to be evangelistic.[3] Greenway is rightly convinced that this three-pronged approach to evangelism is essential to the pastor’s office, and without such work being done in the pastorate the world will not be reached with the gospel.
                Ed Clowney discusses kingdom evangelism in chapter two, by which he means the gospel is a proclamation of the coming kingdom of God. The Gospels’ conception of the kingdom of God refers to God’s dominion rather than his domain over all things.[4] The kingdom of God comes when the King comes, meaning that God’s people do not usher in His kingdom on earth. Clowney refers to Vos and Ridderbos, so it is likely that he is not denying the already/not yet aspect of God’s kingdom, but it would have been helpful to see more interaction with God’s working in and through His people to establish, in some degree/fashion, His kingdom on earth. Christ, the king, has already come once, and will come again. Yet, He did not leave His people as orphans when He ascended, but sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in His people (Jn. 14:17-18), making them His temple (1 Cor. 3:16). So the king is here now among His people, and since we are presently being built into His spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5-10) and through Christ’s cross have access in one Spirit to the Father, making all believers fellow citizens (Eph. 2:14-22), it must be that believers have become fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. This one indicate that, in some sense, the kingdom of God is here now, in, among, and through His people, and as believers are transferred into His kingdom when the Spirit enters them, they also become His temple, spreading His present domain over the lands of which He already has dominion. Clowney hints at these ideas, but doesn’t specifically mention them, when he says, “The kingdom is present, because the King is present, yet the kingdom is to come because His parousia is to come.”[5] It is in the power of God, displayed paradoxically through the death of Christ, that provides for the restoration of all things. Our evangelism must emphasize the lordship of Christ according to Clowney, because Christ truly is sovereign master of all. Those who turn to Christ must become His disciples; He is not to be manipulated as a tool for selfish gain. Christ as Lord is also Judge: “He controls the world now and will subdue every enemy in His final judgment. But Jesus already subdues us to Himself in another way; He triumphs over us by His rule of grace.”[6] Christ died for body and soul, so Clowney states that our salvation must include our life in the body (work, recreation, etc.) as well as our spiritual life. Evangelism is the kingdom mission of the church, and so Clowney sees the church and the kingdom inseparable, but not identical: “To confuse the church with the kingdom would be like confusing the saved with the Savior. But the church is the community of the kingdom.”[7] Clowney helpfully concludes that the church is a witness to the world in holiness, compassion, and proclamation, in the two facets of being scattered throughout the world among unbelievers, and also by gathering together in fellowship with one another and corporate worship as the visible community of the people of God.
                Understanding the pastor’s duty to evangelism and the kingdom nature of evangelism, chapter 3 addresses prayer as it relates to evangelism. C. John Miller confesses that in seminary and even after his motto had been, “Why pray when you can worry?”[8] He sees this mindset in many seminary graduates. He relates examples of women who prayed powerfully that he knew, which led to conversions, and also how Francis Schaeffer and his wife would pray fervently, and many at L’Abri would come to faith as they did so. He fears that we do not pray, especially as Presbyterians, because we trust in our own knowledge, foolishly supposing that that provides its own adequacy. Miller says that when we pray we need to keep a few things in mind; firstly, Christ is Sovereign Lord and in control, so it behooves Christians to petition Him for conversions and to remember that he converts when we evangelize; second, he argues that prayer is the primary way that Christ’s Spirit is communicated to believers; third, the Spirit’s vehicle is bold faith; finally, we are not seeking mere decisions for Christ, but disciples who will glorify Jesus by a changed life. Points one and four are fine, but two and three are a bit more dubious, or at least unclear. Is it really true that Christ’s Spirit is communicated through prayer? When a person is regenerated, does that occur because they are praying? Or does conviction fall on a believer only in the midst of his or her prayer and meditation, or not also while sitting under the preaching of the Word, or reading Scripture or a book on the Bible? Do we often have bold faith, and does the Spirit only work in us, and among unbelievers, when we have bold faith? This is not to suggest that the Spirit doesn’t work in and through prayer, or that we shouldn’t have bold faith when we pray, but Miller goes too far in the writer’s opinion when he says that our prayer should become not just a striving, but a “striving-claiming” of certain promises of God, whereby we actually become partners with God in prayer.[9] More helpful, though some have claimed he’s pressed this too far as well, is Miller’s teaching relating the Christian’s sonship to God with prayer. When a Christian prays, he prays as a child to his father, and a good father wants to give his children good things. Too often the Christian prays in fear, or at least without remembering the intimate relationship he has with the Father, and that leads to a lack of boldness in prayer. It can at least by heartily agreed that we need to pray “more covenantally, to see witnessing more covenantally, and to see God’s commitment in it to you as a son.”[10]
                Next, Dirk J. Hart argues that any believer in the New Testament could declare the good news of the gospel. In Luke 9:59-60 Jesus told one person to let the dead bury their own and go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Even two of the men called to distribute the food in Acts 6 turned out to be preachers in Acts 7 and 8. As Christ was sent into the world, so was the church. Hart argues that, to an extent, our love for orderliness has quenched the Spirit, and we need to return to spontaneous, unorganized evangelism, which is what he claims the early church did. Since Christ has come, He is making people of all nations His own, ushering them into His citizenship, and so preaching and evangelism are inseparable when understood covenantally. Hart refers to Hebrews 10:24-25 to show that in corporate worship there is also a lateral encouraging that goes on between believers which nurtures the body of Christ and can also be an effective witness to unbelievers present: “The welcome they received, the friendship that was offered, the concrete joy that was present, motivated them, in turn, to listen to what was said and to respond in repentance and faith.”[11] He says that the church is missionary in its very nature, because His people are to worship Him while on their missionary pilgrimage. Preaching from the pulpit must always be practical, and while the meat of the word is needed, the pure milk of the gospel must never be missing. Preaching should also use the book of Acts to show the congregation its own missionary nature and encourage them to engage in evangelism. Hart’s bent on evangelism in worship is clear, but he does not wish to cross the line of turning the worship service into an evangelistic outreach campaign. Worship and missions, then, are both central tasks of the church.
                Frank Barker argues that evangelization in someone’s home is the most common form of evangelism found in the New Testament, appealing to Acts 2:42 and other passages.[12] The gist of the chapter is simply to invite others into your home (or other intimate venue) and conduct an evangelistic Bible study, using a book that is suitable for an inquiring unbeliever, or even studying a book in the Bible itself. Hosting should be taken seriously and done well, and the study should include application for believer and non-believer alike. Barker wants the gospel to be brought out each study session, because the unbeliever may never return and it may be their only opportunity to hear the gospel. To get started with a group, Barker emphasizes that the invitation should be low key, but also straightforward concerning the religious nature of the study.  
                Next, Bartlett Hess offers strategies on how to fill the church with people. This was one of the weakest chapters, often employing tactics that emulated a business model more than the Word of God. He emphasizes planting your church in a prominent, strategic location, having many and varied programs to draw people in and keep them, identifying people’s needs and trying to meet them, gaining media coverage, and being active in publicity.[13] Taken to the extreme, one may think that you should only plant churches in the center of cities, and that if you don’t have extra-biblical programs to offer, you aren’t being a faithful and effective church. He even talks about having new members teach a class to keep them involved so they will not leave the church,[14] but at some point you have to ask yourself if you are no longer trusting in the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, but instead in your desire to keep new members running on a treadmill. One also wonders about all the home Bible studies that are going on, and just how well they are supervised by the elders. The good of this chapter is seen in the zeal to reach out to the community with the gospel, though at times the tactics used are questionable.
                D. James Kennedy contributes a chapter on witnessing. He says that every believer must learn to witness, to proclaim the gospel, citing Acts 8 which states that those scattered brought the good news with them, and it was not the apostles who were scattered. He says that good evangelism is more caught than taught, and that pastors need to provide on-the-job training for their congregation, not simply talk about evangelism in theory.[15] Kennedy lays out a detailed plan to teach the church how to effectively evangelize, and much of it is helpful, although his optimism about gospel proclamation and that every believer has a worldwide gospel responsibility is an overreach.
                Kennedy Smartt offers some practical guidelines for evangelizing through Sunday school. For this to occur, the leadership in the church must organize the Sunday school curriculum to be evangelistic and instructive, and following up with visitors is a great way to encourage them to come back. Door-to-door visitations, mailings, and phone calls are necessary. He says that one should not have a Sunday school catered to the “select of the elect,” indicating his belief that Sunday school is not primarily for deep doctrinal study but more for the new Christians, and even unbelievers.[16] It would seem that if a church has Sunday school, it can be used for whatever is desired, given it is not something mandated in Scripture. Related to the previous chapter, James Bland discusses follow-up with unbelievers. He says some helpful things about how the apostles, after preaching the gospel to the unsaved, would follow up with them, and would continually visit the churches they established. Yet, he also seems pragmatic and doubting the role of the Holy Spirit by urging the assimilation of new converts to quickly find small groups, else their commitment to Christ might not be solidified.[17] This raises many questions, not least of which is whether one could really be saved and committed to Christ if they can so easily fall away from such a commitment.
                T.M. Moore addresses the need to equip the church for lifestyle evangelism. This concept has largely been covered already, but the idea goes back to the spontaneous expansion of the early church. The goal is to equip the congregation to naturally and effectively proclaim the gospel in their spheres of influence in their everyday lives.[18] This style of evangelism would not primarily be handing out gospel tracts or street preaching, since that would not be ordinary or done every day, but happens without being planned. The responsibility to teach the sheep to always be ready to give a defense for the faith falls on the pastor primarily. This will not produce fruit overnight, but requires patience, diligence, and boldness, and also an adept ability to discern where the unbeliever is at in his understanding of spiritual matters and his or her own depravity. Effective communication has occurred when some are smitten by the gospel, others have their interest piqued, and some mock and reject it (Acts 17:22-34). Related to this, the next chapter discusses hospitality evangelism, where similar things are done, except it is not the proclamation of the gospel itself so much as it is the kindness and acts of mercy done for the unbeliever that is in view. In fact, this is really a precursor to the preceding chapter, because it is about intentionally establishing friendships with unbelievers in your sphere of influence, in the hopes of gaining their trust so that you can share the gospel with them within a meaningful context of relationship. Hospitality is a qualification for an elder (1 Tim. 3:2) and something all believers must cultivate (1 Pet. 4:9). As believers hospitably love unbelievers, they model Christ and His disciples.[19]
                All these methods of evangelism are good and necessary for the growth of the church. Terry Gyger offers an integrated plan for incorporated these means of evangelism into the church. He rightly says that each member of the church has different giftings, even evangelistic giftings, so certain modes of evangelism should not be honored above others, but each should have their place.[20] Each field of evangelism must be done with excellence by those who are best equipped to engage in the particular field, and coordination is necessary so that duplication does not occur. Evangelism and discipleship must be emphasized in equal measure. Training must begin with simple, basic instruction, and move to the more complex, and leaders must emerge and multiply from within the church. The main weakness in this chapter is that it presents evangelism as a daunting task and may rely on the concept of programs too heavily.
                Harry Reeder writes a helpful chapter on church revitalization. This is when a church is dying, is but flickering embers of its former self, and needs new life breathed into it. New pastors fresh from seminary will often be tasked with a small church that needs to be revitalized.[21] Reeder appeals to Revelation 2:5 and shows how the mighty church at Ephesus has fallen and needs to remember its first love and be faithful once more. He argues that every church needs to be revitalized because each successive generation must commit itself to God, the Word, and evangelism.[22] Many people, especially the elderly, are nostalgic about the “glory days” of their church, which means they will be stuck in their old ways. Getting them to change and think fresh thoughts is not easy, but necessary. You cannot pave the path to a healthy church by bringing in new members and laying the asphalt over top the old members. This is unrighteous pragmatism and denies that those already in the church are genuine sheep of God who need to be shepherded as well. Reeder also examines II Timothy 2:2, which shows that the young pastor (Timothy) needs guidance from wiser, older men (Paul), so that the pastor can pass on the true doctrine and way of life to other reliable men who can then teach them to others. Timothy taught proven leaders so that they could reach out to potential leaders, and he had guidance from Paul that equipped him to do this. Ministers today need such guidance from veteran ministers.[23] Reeder rightly stresses that programs do not produce real growth, but are a kind of tool to help organize the actual work of ministry that is meant to lead to actual spiritual growth. The root cause of lack of growth is not programs, but spiritual stagnation of the members in the church. Reeder emphasizes that revitalization never takes place without a strong pulpit ministry and a solid example set by the pastor to the congregation.
                The biggest takeaway from this book is that evangelism is essential to the office of teaching elder, and that it is no easy or simplistic task, but is multi-dimensional and complex. Yet, by the grace of God, the church can and will grow as the pastor proclaims the gospel from the pulpit, models evangelism to the congregation, and helps mobilize the body of Christ to do the work of evangelism. So few ministers seem to understand their role in evangelism, which is in many ways the central role. If the pastor does not evangelize, the congregation will not evangelize. If the pastor does engage in evangelism and teach the congregation to do so, the congregation will follow the shepherd. This requires both humility and boldness, because no coward is willing to take the gospel to unbelievers where they are. Things might get messy, and it isn’t as easy or comfortable for the minister to deal with unbelievers as it is his own congregation, but it is necessary so long as the Lord tarries and the lost sheep are still scattered.                 

[1] The Pastor-Evangelist, Greenway, 2
[2] Ibid., 7
[3] Ibid., 11
[4] Ibid., 16
[5] Ibid., 18
[6] Ibid., 21
[7] Ibid., 29
[8] Ibid., 37
[9] Ibid., 47
[10] Ibid., 49
[11] Ibid., 57
[12] Ibid., 66
[13] Ibid., 84-85
[14] Ibid., 87
[15] Ibid., 98
[16] Ibid., 111
[17] Ibid., 122
[18] Ibid., 132
[19] Ibid., 143
[20] Ibid., 152-53
[21] Ibid., 162
[22] Ibid., 165
[23] Ibid., 170-172