Friday, October 30, 2009

Union in the Body - John Gill

This union of saints in a church-state is signified by their being joined, and as it were glued together; it is an union of spirits so close, as if they were but one spirit; so the members of the first Christian church were of one heart and one soul, being knit together in love; and it becomes members to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Acts iv. 32, Col. ii.2, Eph. iv. 3.
found in John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, new ed., vol. 2 (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1839), 565.

... Hum ... unity. So does this look like your body of believers?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Latin / Greek / Arabic / Old Norse Study Tool

Here is a site that might help all the Latin / Greek / Arabic / Old Norse students out there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the nature of the blogosphere ...

There are many blogs out there which are like spider webs. You innocently start reading one article, and before you know it, you get caught in their web. (Due to my lack of writing time, my blog is safe.) So beware, readers out there, you might be their next victim ...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Community of Theologians - Malcom B. Yarnell III

In Clear and Useful Instruction, [Pilgram Marpeck] promoted the idea that all Christians receive spiritual gifts and are empowered by Christ to fulfill the Great Commission. Their belief that the Spirit spoke to the entire community as it read the Scripture together encouraged the Anabaptists to seek conversation with other Christians. Theology, for them, was always done best in communal Bible study. This helps explain one of the most poignant facts of the Continental Reformation. The Anabaptists seemed more than willing to enter debates with the state church theologians, even when it led to persecution. What surprised their opponents repeatedly was the intricate knowledge of Scripture that even illiterate Anabaptists expressed, a knowledge learned in church.
found in Malcom B. Yarnell III, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 102.

I keep on thinking about that last sentence and am reminded of the account found in Acts 4:13 (NKJV):
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

Could it be that the Anabaptists' ecclesiology really impacted their Christian walk as Yarnell seems to imply in his book? Could it be that during their communal Bible studies, they too had been with Jesus instead of only hearing about Jesus?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Senior Pastor - Conclusion

In conclusion, while I would not go so far as to say that the presence of a senior pastor is unbiblical, it would seem that its Scriptural justification is weak and that the rationale used to support the need of a human senior pastor, which appears to be rooted more in tradition or pragmatism than in a solid Biblical mandate, are unconvincing. It would seem, then, that in the case of a plurality of pastors, given the weak Scriptural evidence for a designated human senior pastor, allowing Christ to be the senior pastor and the elders to serve as the Holy Spirit leads, with no hierarchical titles, would be the better New Testament model. Even though a few practical considerations have been proposed, the most important factor to consider is that this position seems to require fewer assumptions to be made about details that Scripture does not furnish.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Senior Pastor - Fourth view: final comments

So what of the fourth view, the absence of a human senior pastor? At least two final comments need to be made about it. While this view advocates the absence of a human senior pastor, it does not mean that it lacks a senior pastor. The senior pastor in this view is the one found in 1 Pet 5:4: the chief Shepherd.[1] Jesus is the head of the church,[2] under which are all believers, including pastors, who use their gifts among the congregation.[3] If the New Testament church is to use Christ as an example, one could point out that in Christ's ministry, there was no plurality of equal elders and that Christ was the senior pastor figure. According to the fourth view, Jesus still is the senior pastor.

The second comment is that while some proponents of the fourth view like to structure the church in such a way as to strictly enforce parity and equality among the pastors,[4] this view can, and should, make room to acknowledge the differences in the pastors' gifts and talents[5] without having to identify any one pastor as 'first among equals'. Often the main disagreement with this view is that it is idealistic and will not work in practice because, as Patterson states, there is an "innate difficulty of 'shared leadership' or any approaches where all elders are perceived as equal."[6] Pragmatically speaking, though, dealing with decision making within this view can actually be easier and healthier than in any human senior pastor view. If all pastors agree, there is no problem. If there is a division between the pastors, the high view of the centrality of the headship of Christ and the reliance upon the leading of the Holy Spirit necessitate proponents of this view to believe that any difference in opinion is likely the result of one or more of the elders not being filled with or led by the Holy Spirit. This dictates a period of prayer, repentance, and the seeking of guidance from the Holy Spirit which eventually will result in full agreement between the pastors. The single-elder counterpart would possibly result in a bad decision being made if that single-elder is the only one making decisions and he is not being led by the Spirit at that time. It might not be a speedy process, but it is a more robust process, reminiscent of the multiple redundant systems on most aircrafts nowadays: if one fails, there are two more to back it up.

So what do you think, can the church operate with Christ as her senior pastor, or must we fall into pragmatism?

[1] The Greek arcipoimenos could be translated chief pastor or even senior pastor.

[2] Eph. 5:23, Col 1:18.

[3] 1 Pet 5:1.

[4] Waldron, 192.

[5] Ibid., 216-7.

[6] Patterson, “Single-Elder,” 152.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Senior Pastor - First among equals view: final comments

Before summing up this series, I would like to make some final comments on the last two views mentioned in the introduction. While I have not seen possible Biblical justifications, nor seen much convincing evidence in some examples of Jewish tradition or in some of the church fathers, nor found justifications in pragmatism for the first two views of the senior pastor, the question at hand is: is there a justification for the first among equals view?

It is important to note that in this view the distinction made between the 'first' and the rest is only in visibility. Strauch states that the 'first among equals' principle "allows for functional, gift-based diversity within the eldership team without creating an official, superior office over fellow elders."[1] White also presents such a view when talking of a small congregation with, for example, only one paid elder who, as a result may be the main preacher. "In such a situation," White states, "it is natural for the one man to have a more public 'face' than the other elders, not because he is a different kind of elder but merely in how his gifts are exercised in the fellowship."[2] Hammett also possibly presents a similar view. While he agrees that "in New Testament terminology, the pastor is an elder, and all the elders are pastors," he also adds that "in terms of contemporary Baptist usage, the pastor is the one primarily responsible for the public preaching of the Word,"[3] therefore seemingly reducing the distinction to a functional distinctive.

According to Strauch, there is never a distinction in authority, for such a change would present a "very real danger" which may lead the "first among equals" to become a "first without equals," thus eliminating what he calls Biblical eldership.[4] The point is well taken, but a question arises in the mind of the author: why then even bother to mention a distinction?

If the main distinction between 'the first' and the others is that he is more visible, then why make a distinction? And if the different is that he is possibly more fulltime, and possibly the only one being paid or paid more than the others. What if two of the pastors are more visible, possibly more fulltime, and possibly paid? Are they both senior pastors? Is there a distinction between them? Furthermore, with the risk of opening another can of worms, why should one be paid and not the others? So while the intent is appreciated, the question remains, why make the distinction?

One possible need for such a distinction, even though there is no indication of this in the writings of Strauch or White, is that, as Dargan would say, our modern culture demands a single pastor, and thus this third view makes room for one. Then the questions is: should we make such cultural accommodations? Are they necessary? Are they beneficial? What do y'all think?

[1] Strauch, 48.

[2] White, 281.

[3] Hammett, 185.

[4] Strauch, 49.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Littell, Franklin H. The Anabaptist View of the Church - A book review

Since I have to write a bunch of book reviews for my course work, I figured I'd post them here. Here is the first one. Enjoy.

Littell, Franklin H. The Anabaptist View of the Church, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. The Dissent and Nonconformity Series, No. 11. Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1958. 229 pp. $ 22.00.

In the midst of a “surge of Anabaptists studies” in the late 1950s (x), the late Franklin H. Littell, Professor of Church History at Emory University, better known as the father of modern Holocaust studies in America[1], revised and enlarged his original study on the Anabaptists and their identity.


In an attempt to correct the misconceptions about Anabaptists created by the four centuries of church historians, Littell presents a study which does not dismiss Anabaptists as peripheral and does not base itself on extremely hostile polemics (139) which “generally can be said to reflect the theology of the Reformers more than the economy of the Anabaptists” (142). His quest begins by an attempt at identifying the essence of these “radical groupings [which] developed not on the margins of the sixteenth-century Christendom, but rather in the very centers of the Reformation” (1). After proposing a working definition for the Anabaptists proper as “those in the radical Reformation who gathered and disciplined a ‘true church’ (rechte Kirche) upon the apostolic pattern as they understood it” (italics his, xvii), Littell proceeds in chapter one to present a historical overview of the larger “Anabaptist” movement. This larger movement he will come to call the “Left Wing of the Reformation” and isolate among it a smaller group of proper Anabaptists which include Swiss Brethren, Hutterites, South German Brethren, and Dutch Mennonites (45). His approach is initially geographical, subdividing his overview into three sections: North Germany (3-11), Switzerland (12-18), South Germany and Strassburg (18-27), but then turns more chronological and topical. Ultimately, the purpose of this first chapter is not only to delineate the variety of groups that have been rightly or wrongly classified as Anabaptist, but mainly to historically substantiate his thesis of the centrality of the view of the church in Anabaptist thought and praxis (which gives nature to his possibly mislabeled title, more on this below).

Chapters 2 through 4 then focus on the groups which are proper Anabaptist, for they “gathered and disciplined a ‘True Church’ (rechte Kirche) upon the apostolic pattern” (italics his, 47) and more specifically on their theology. Littell divides this in three fairly self explanatory chapter titles: ‘the Fall of the Church’, ‘the Restitution of the True Church’, and ‘the Great Commission’. In ‘the Fall of the Church’ Littell looks at the Anabaptist primitivist tendencies. For the Anabaptists, “the New Testament was clear both as to the content of the Christian faith and the organizational procedures in the True Christian community” (46). Littell points out that primitivism was not a new concept or even a purely Christian concept and that Anabaptists did not arrive at their position from a historical tradition of philosophical perspective, but from a commitment to scripture. He then proceeds to look at the historical and theological understanding of the fall of the church from the classical Golden Age.

This leads him straight into ‘the Restitution of the True Chruch’ where he expounds on the Anabaptist belief that the life and virtue of the Early church could be recovered (79). He points out that “after a short period of general protest, a strict Biblicism triumphed over prophetism and chiliasm in the large section of the Left Wing”(82). The focus was now on the restoration of the True Church according to Biblical principles. He therefore distills the Anabaptists’ marks of the True Church into: believer’s baptism; spiritual governance; community; the Lord’s supper; and passive obedience as the outworking of their view on the authority of civil government. Finally, Littell transitions into ‘the Great Commission’ where he stipulates that this passage of scripture was central to Anabaptist theology and practice. He ends his book with the last chapter, which was the first chapter in the first edition, where he chastises historians for not being fair to Anabaptists and for being bad historians, thereby giving us some insight into his research theory and application.

Critical Evaluation

This well written, informative, and well researched work is to be commended for its scholarship at a time when such a position as taken by Littell was not the status quo of academic thought on Anabaptism. Littell’s commitment to original source, his commitment to the careful evaluation of said sources (150), and his fearless chastisement of his contemporaries for abandoning the Anabaptists and passing them “in dim review behind the glittering personalities of the chief reformers” (139) are what make this work uniquely relevant. The twenty-first century reader, though, might sense some lacunae even in Littell’s research. As mentioned several times by Littell, the topic at hand had engendered much more interest since he wrote the first edition, in part, due to the then newly available, numerous primary sources. Possible lacunae in research on his part could therefore be due to the lack of said resources in the 1950s. This could explain the total lack of discussion of the Italian and French Anabaptist movements. Therefore, ultimately, while Littell is a very good starting point in the understanding of Anabaptism, another updated and revised version would provide an even fuller picture of the Anabaptist movement. Someone needs to pick up the torch.

Said future researchers might try not to fall in the same trap as Littell when it comes to entitling their work. Littell entitles his work The Anabaptist View of the Church, for his central thesis is that their view of the church is what really defined Anabaptists, but, while he spends much time describing the ecclesiology of the Anabaptists, it seems to me that Littell really sets out to describe Anabaptists as a whole and not just their view of the church. Therefore, it would seem that the title does not do the work justice and might even deter some reader who might wrongly ignore it as being too narrow in focus and too technical in nature.

Another aspect which could possibly mislead the casual or cursory reader as to Littell’s intentions could arise from his positioning of baptism as the Anabaptists’ first mark of a true church in Chapter 3. It should be noted that based on his overall work, Littell does not place undue emphasis on baptism, but the positioning of it as the primary item in his list tends to lend credence to the misconception that Anabaptists were mainly concerned about believer’s baptism. It could also be beneficial, since Littell was in the business or rescuing Anabaptists’ reputation, if he included some discussion of the lack of emphasis of the original Anabaptists on baptism by immersion.

Finally, it is ironic that, while he cautions his reader not to read “back into the Reformers and radicals a logical coherence and clarity of thought which neither party possessed until after a series of hard fought controversies” (3), he himself seeks from the very beginning to postulate a hypothesis that in itself is an attempt at identifying coherence and clarity of thought in the Anabaptists, mainly that the central issue that brings all these groups together is the concept of a “True Church”. I do not argue with Littell’s conclusions, for he does a good job at supporting them, but, granted that he does a good job at factually showing that they themselves did not necessarily understand or were aware of this coherence, his warning is nevertheless ironic.


Littell set out to do two things in his work: redeem the Anabaptists and show that their central concern was to restore a True Church by following the New Testament. He clearly achieved his purposes in a work where the research is thorough and well documented. His book is informative and challenging, a must read for any student of the Free Church and for any believer who wants to be encouraged to follow the New Testament in all aspects of their life.

[1] Joelle Farrell, “Rev. Franklin H. Littell, scholar of the Holocaust,” Obituaries at (May 25, 2009), [on-line]; accessed 22 September 2009; available from; Internet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Senior Pastor - arguments from pragmatism

After a little pause in this series, do to some changes in our lives, I will continue our pursuit to find arguments for the necessity of a senior pastor. Having exhausted the possible Biblical justifications for the necessity of a senior pastor, and having not seen much convincing evidence in some examples of Jewish tradition or in some of the church fathers, we will now analyze some common justifications for such an office in the local church. Often the following line of reasoning is used to justify such an office: with a plurality of pastors, there is a need for a head, someone who will set a vision, [1] and someone who can decide in case of division. Akin notes that Adrian Rogers

states with his characteristic wit, "Anything without a head is dead. Anything with several heads is a freak." That is simply a colorful way of recognizing the fact that someone has to lead. Though many may give counsel, provide input, and share wisdom, there nevertheless must be a leader out front leading the way. [2]

Also some argue, as Patterson stated, that a single leader is what one would expect from human social order. [3] F. F. Bruce argues it in the following way:

Committee rule in general is weak unless there is a strong chairman. Quite often the strongest personality will become chairman in any case, and spiritual strength need not be excluded from his qualities. In practice such a man will become primus inter pares, and once his position is accepted and perpetuated, before long he will be regarded, in theory as well as in practice, as primus pure and simple. [4]

While these arguments make good logical sense, are they necessary? Historically, this has not always been the case, even in Baptist life. It is very telling that Dargan, in the late nineteenth century, considered churches having 'one pastor' to be a modern (late 19th century) custom.[5] As a matter of fact, elders (plural) could "be found in Baptist churches in America throughout the 18th century and into the 19th century,"[6] and even in the 17th century.[7] While there is some disagreement about the historical normality of this plurality in Baptist life,[8] it did exist, and as Akin adds, some "also believed that all elders were equal in office but different in duties; they were equal in rank but different in service."[9] Waldron states that "the majority of the Particular Baptists were committed to a plurality and parity of elders in their churches."[10] One could conjecture that these movements, which were known for their desire to follow sola scriptura, put away the traditions inherited from the writings of people like Ignatius, and while seeking Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, developed these nontraditional patterns. So what happened to make things change in the subsequent years? Hammett points to a transition possibly due to the outstripping of qualified men due to the rapid growth of Baptist churches in the early nineteenth century.[11] It is possible to envision that this temporary situation probably would not have lasted. Had it not been for modernity, with time, local congregations might have reverted to the plurality of elders that was common in the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately, as Hammett purports, in the twentieth century "the business model entered Baptist life and perhaps conditioned people toward adoption of the single pastor, patterned after the chief executive officer of the business world."[12] Anyhow, whether new or old, this pragmatic 'need for a head' seems to miss the point that Scripture states that Christ, not a human senior pastor, is the head of the church.[13] Even someone like Jalland, who would argue for a monepiscopacy, is quick to admit that "… [Jesus] alone is the true 'plenipotentiary' of God."[14] If, in addition, one also realizes that God is one and has one will, it only makes sense to envision that if all the pastors are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will be of one accord, for the Holy Spirit within them is not divided, and there will be no pragmatic need for a human senior pastor to make the final decision. To use the same metaphor used by Adrian Rogers, can we say that since Jesus Christ is the head of the church, anything with another head (viz. a senior pastor) is a freak? Ultimately we have to ask ourselves if human pragmatism is the best option in the Church of Jesus Christ; after all we are told to "lean not on our own understanding."[15]

Before summing up this series, we will look at a few final considerations about the first among equal view and the forth view presented in the introduction to this series. In the meantime, are there any other pragmatic reasons you can think of to justify a human senior pastor? Do you think that they are valid?

[1] This line of thinking has been strengthened recently by the publishing of church growth literature which points to the need for a strong single pastor. Grudem does a good job of refuting the literature on three separate issues and notes that Wagner himself admits that a model more like the first among equals view presented in this paper would have the same results (Grudem, 929-31).

[2] Akin, 72. One could argue, that since Scripture states that Christ is the head of the church, any other head, as a senior pastor is sometimes called, would make the church a freak, to use Rogers' terminology.

[3] Patterson, “Single-Elder,” 152.

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 206; quoted in Samuel E. Waldron, “Plural-Elder Congregationalism,” in Who Runs the Church?, gen. ed. Steve B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 197.

[5] Dargan, 186.

[6] Dever, 20.

[7] Waldron, 200-1.

[8] Paige Patterson, "A Single-Elder," 240-1.

[9] Akin, 57.

[10] Waldron, 201.

[11] Hammett, 179.

[12] Ibid., 180. Hammett’s comment does not necessarily mean that the proponents of the first two views are also proponents of a CEO model. Akin clearly states that this is not the case (Akin, 69). What could be gleaned by the facts is that the drive for a senior pastor at that time in history might have been culturally motivated and therefore might not be a tradition that Baptists should hold on to.

[13] Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19.

[14] Jalland, 93.

[15] Prov. 3:5.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

House for sale.

Most of you who know us, know that we have a house for sale in Wake Forest, NC. This is the house we had been working on and whose progress some of you have followed through this blog. We are trying to sell it by word of mouth, so as not to pay the huge real estate agent fee, so if you know of anybody who could be interested, please refer them to the bog we have dedicated to the sale of the house:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We're still alive ...

So they say that unless you blog at least every three days, you lose your readership ... well let us see: my last blog entry was June 11th. I guess I lost my readership, except for all you folks that are real hard core Maël and Cindy fans, or all of you that use feed readers ... so for y'all: we're still alive.
Much has has happened this summer. Both of my paternal grandparents passed away. We finished remodeling our house. We moved to Texas for me to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Busy summer.
I do plan to finish the senior pastor series, and possibly another series I started two years ago and never finished. I also plan to try to opine a little more on what I am studying and reading. I have lots of home improvement articles from my experience with the house. In short, I have enough to blog every three days ... now, where can I get the time?
Enough for now.

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