Sunday, April 29, 2007

Deciding in Community

The more I study the New Testament, the more I see a pattern of community involvement in many aspects of the life of the church. We see such patterns in passages like Acts 13:1-3 and Acts 15:6-29. Because of this conviction, I read the following letter to our church this morning:

Dear Messiah Family,

All we do as a body, personally and corporately, should be guided by the Holy Spirit which is according to the will of God. For this reason, I keep on reminding us that throughout the NT, we see that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit resulting in the believers being all in one accord. I strongly believe that God has put us in community for good reasons, and one of those reasons is that when we all seek his wisdom, I strongly believe that He will not only reveal it to us, but that He will make it known to the body in unity.

It is for this reason that I come to you this morning with a prayer request on my and Cindy’s behalf. I thought about sharing this on Sunday night, but I wanted to make sure that my words would not be misunderstood or misquoted. BTW - for this reason I will be posting this letter on my blog, so that people can go and read it if they have any doubts about what I said.

Cindy and I have no intention of moving from this community unless God directs us to do so. I hope this is evidenced by the fact that we bought a house in the community, and we felt so comfortable about the fact that we were going to be here for a while, that we bought the house with a little help from a government program which will penalize us if we sell the house within the first 5 years of ownership.1

In mid February, I was contacted by LC, a Baptist college in Pineville, LA, asking me if I was interested in applying for a full time math faculty position starting this fall 2007. I answered that I was not interested, but they were persistent and have asked me to consider applying and interviewing for the position now, but waiting to start in fall 2008. Because the job description is very much so what God has gifted me & given me a desire to do and because the administration has been persistent in thinking it could be God’s will for me to fill the full time position and because this opportunity came to me completely unsolicited, I have decided to fill out the application and see where God takes it.

I believe that, like in Acts 13 when the Holy Spirit told the congregation at Antioch to set aside Paul and Barnabas, that if this is God’s will, He will affirm it not just to me, but to this entire body. This thinking is not a foreign thought to our Baptist heritage: there once was a time when a pastor would not leave a congregation until both he and they agreed that his departure was the leading of God.2

Messiah is our family and we could not think of seriously considering this opportunity in secret, as some pastor might sometime feel compelled to do. Cindy and I, like you, seek to serve God with all our heart, our strength, and our soul. We do not want to move from this community at this time, but will obey our Father in heaven in whatever way he directs us. Please be in prayer with us that we all will discern His will in this issue, as well as all areas of life: private and corporate.

1 I am not mentioning this because of the financial implications, but just to point out that we had no intentions of leaving the area when we bought the house.

2 H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman, 1987), 77.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Giftedness is paramount - 9Marks Trends

As I reviewed the 9Marks article (see intro here ), I noticed a first trend: giftedness is paramount. Consider what John MacArthur has to say:

“Furthermore, the gifts and calling of an elder are ultimately far more important than any other formal training track.” - John MacArthur

This is quite the statement from the president of Master’s Seminary.

When looking to recognize a pastor/elder/overseer, much importance is put on the preaching and teaching ability of a pastor/elder/overseer. While these are usually a result of his spiritual gifting, they can be just natural traits of a good speaker, a good theologian, or even of a well trained professional. The question at hand, though, is not are they a good speaker, a good theologian, or even a well trained professional, rather it is: are they a pastor/elder/overseer? Therefore, while not wanting to undermine passages like Tit 1:9 which point to the fact that an overseer must hold “fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict,” we need to see them in the light of passages like Acts 20:28, which points out that the elders of Ephesus had been made overseers by the Holy Spirit (my friend Alan posted on this here), and Eph 4:11, which clearly states that Christ is the one who gave some to be pastors and teachers (gifting/gift, not position). Many can know Scripture and doctrine, many can be great speakers, but not all are gifted by God to be pastor/elder/overseers, therefore it is paramount to recognize the ones who are given this gift by God.

How do we do that? Well first of all, we can only do that by sharing in the life with them so that their life and gifting is allowed to be exhibited (more to come on this topic in my next post in this series). Consider the following statements:

“It is also tempting to appoint someone who is theologically brilliant and agrees with the doctrinal positions of the church. But we need to remember that Paul stresses character qualifications for elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). We need elders who are theologically faithful and who live out the gospel in their everyday lives. We must not sacrifice the latter simply because the former is present, for the words of elders must accord with a godly life.” – Thomas R. Schreiner

Bruce Keisleing states that: “I learned that concentration of teaching opportunities (assuming an individual teaches well) will heighten the ability of the church to recognize its elders.” While it is true that a concentration of teaching opportunities could provide the opportunity for a pastor/elder/overseer’s gifts to be lived out so that people can recognize them, we need to remember that it might just make someone more visible. Here I think that the words of Phil Newton are to be heeded: “more than doctrinal knowledge and high visibility is needed.” Just because someone is highly visible does not mean that person has the gift of pastoring.

Ultimately, since it is God who gifts, we have to be sure that we are led by the Holy Spirit in the process even when we are not sure what the Spirit is telling us:

“… as you pray for discernment, be conscious of the Holy Spirit setting off ‘alarms’ concerning the character, conduct, or qualities of those aspiring to eldership. If you are hesitant to approve someone, then don’t until your reservations are cleared.” – Phil Newton

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not? Symposium at SEBTS

It would be a waste of my time to re-type my notes on the plenary sessions since I can just direct you to Alan’s and Lew’s notes on the topic:
A L Daniel B. Wallace - shorter ending proponent
A L Maurice Robinson - longer ending proponent
A L Keith Elliott - lost ending proponent
A L David Black - longer ending proponent
A L Darrell Bock - shorter ending proponent
A L Question & Answer Session

First of all, to satisfy my wife’s need for staying on topic, let me state that my preference is to include the last twelve verses of Mark as original. I think the most palatable explanation of a shorter ending is the conjecture that when the reader comes to v. 8 of a shorter Mark, s/he is left in a position where s/he has to make a personal decision about Jesus. But, while this option is very tantalizing, it is a conjecture about authorial intent, and not really a solution which pays attention to all the evidence at hand. On the other hand, the most compelling argument about the authenticity of the last twelve verses is found in the patristic record. While there are some of the fathers who possibly shed some doubt on these verses, it would seem that early and late fathers considered them to be authentic. Their absence in two manuscripts (א and B) seems to indicate that the scribes had some uncertainty about these verses. But ultimately I have to agree with those who claim that the bulk of the discussion is probably happening nowadays only because these two manuscripts do not include the last twelve verses. Debate over authenticity in the first couple of centuries is not alien to other books of the New Testament (the authenticity of the book of Revelation and the letter to the Hebrews was questioned for quite some time in the patristic era) and therefore probably should not be used to justify this level of uncertainty over twelve verses.

There, enough said, … now I can digress …

To begin my digression, I would like to share some random thoughts that this conference has generated in my mind; I’ll do that by quoting some comments and ideas from the speakers.

While I might not have agreed with Dr. Elliott’s conclusion on the originality of the last twelve verses of Mark, I would like to share this quote, with which I do agree. While talking about the Biblical texts which we were discussing in quite a sterile, academic fashion, he reminded us that “these were texts that were constantly read, used, and lived” in the early church. That raised the question in my mind: these are texts that are read and used in modern Christendom, but are they lived? I pray they are.

While all the speakers presented very academic arguments, it seemed that they reminded us that the gospel is to be lived out. Dr. Black ended his talk with an appeal to the gospel and the need to proclaim it, no matter what our conclusions are on the longer ending of Mark. Dr. Bock reminded us to “live in such a way and engage in dialogue in such a way that” we honor the gospel of Jesus Christ (I’m sorry I only have part of the quote verbatim). The gospel needs to drive all we do: a reminder which we need never to stop heeding and giving.

Dr. Nelson (Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at SEBTS and moderator of the last session) reminded us of the practicality of such academic topics as textual criticism in everyday biblical teaching. To paraphrase Dr. Nelson, when preaching through the book of Mark, the preacher is going to have to deal with the text, decisions are going to have to be made about where the gospel stops, and questions will be asked by the hearers no matter what decision the speaker makes. Thus this is not a sterile, academic, ivory tower discussion, rather this is a practical and important discussion.

Dr. Robinson pointed out that all speakers (at least in the first three sessions) seemed to defend their arguments by the “cumulative strength of their evidence,” and yet they arrived at different conclusions. This presents us with a very sobering warning about how our presuppositions affect us in our study of Biblical texts.

I would also point out a couple of observations. First, I found out that to be a textual critic, you have to either grow a beard or speak with an English accent. I speak with a French/Italian accent, is that enough? I really don’t feel like growing a beard, but I could if I so desired. All jokes aside, I miss spending time looking at text critical questions and look forward to being done with my M Div, so that I can get back to it.

Second, women, with a few exceptions (6 to be exact), are not interested in the originality of the last twelve verses of Mark. While I am trying to be facetious, Cindy and I did wonder why more women did not attend this conference. Cindy knows no Greek and knows little to nothing about textual criticism, yet she thoroughly enjoyed this symposium. Maybe the explanation for the general lack of attendance of both men and women is the fear of the blah blah blah syndrome that plagues so many academicians. If so, don’t fear the blah blah blahs, for in-between them, there is much to be learned.

Overall, this was a great conference. The speakers need to be commended for their humility and the way they interacted. I believe they made Christ proud.

For more comments, pictures, etc. check the following sites:
Lew A. at The Pursuit
David B. at Dave Black Online - Saturday, April 14, 7:38 PM
Alan K. at The Assembling of the Church
Josh McM. at A New Testament Student
Steve S. at Theological Musings
Theron S. at Sharing in the Life who btw is slowly coming out of a long period of blog-bernation.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The function of an elder: what Scripture passages should we consider?

I am going back and revisiting all the Scripture passages from which we can learn the function of a pastor/elder/overseer. Here is my list so far:

Acts 11:29-30
Acts 15:2, 6
Acts 20:28-31
Eph 4:11-16
1 Tim 3:5
1 Tim 5:17
Titus 1:9
James 5:14
1 Pet 5:2-3

Did I forget a passage? If so please let me know. BTW - for you out there who do not always agree with me on my views on pastor/elder/overseers, this is your chance to help me grow in maturity, so please share with me passages I might have forgotten in my search to try to identify the function of an elder. Many of you have been blog-shy, it is time to get out in the open and join the blog-conversation.

Once I have received all your comments, I will spend some time studying these passages and then I will blog on the outcome of this study. Thanks in advance for your encouragement, support, prayers, and your own personal Scriptural study while I go through this process.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Taxes ...

For all of you trying to finish your taxes before April 17, let me point you to the IRS website where you will find a list of many Free File Alliance Companies which will allow you to do your taxes for free, provided you fit their criteria. I'm personally using H&R Block's TaxCut Free File.

Also, don't forget to consider the all new "Federal telephone excise tax refund" and "Energy efficient home improvements" credits!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Recognizing Pastor/Elders - thoughts generated from reading an article

The body of believers with which we gather is in the process of recognizing some more pastor/elders. Currently, the body has recognized two pastor/elders, but I believe that there are other individuals in our body who have been gifted by God with the gift of pastoring (see this post ) and the body has decided that it is time to recognize some of them, so that they can serve in the position of pastor/elder.

Because we are in this process, one of my brothers in Christ gave me a print-out of A Pastors’ and Theologians’ Forum on Selecting Elders, a 9Marks article that can be found here.

I found the article interesting: agreeing with much and disagreeing with some. I get the impression that the writers of the article see a distinction between the pastor and the other elders (a distinction which I do not see in Scripture, and with which I therefore have to disagree), but I thought that some of their comments were still very appropriate and not negated by their presupposition. Therefore, I figured I would share some trends that I noticed in this article. Be on the lookout for 3 or 4 posts with the topic: 9Marks Trends.

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