Scripture Under Siege

Scripture Under Siege

When Paul wrote to Timothy from the dungeon prison as he was awaiting execution, his heart was focused on the church at Ephesus where the Scripture was under siege.  What Paul had promised the elders in Acts 20 had come to fulfillment.  The wolves had clothed themselves in sheep’s clothing and infiltrated the church.  They were teaching heresy in the church.  They were leading women astray with fables.  It was a sad day in Ephesus.  As Paul sat in the damp dungeon awaiting death, he sent a letter to his young disciple and charged him to stand firm upon the Scriptures and to preach the Word of God.  From 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5, we can almost feel the heartbeat of the battle tested apostle from those words that appear in our Bible.  The Scriptures were under siege and Timothy was to thunder the Word of God without hesitation.

All through church history, the Bible has remained under constant attack and criticism.  The position of the church throughout her history has been that the devil has no stories of his own, therefore, he must attack God’s story.  He will twist the Bible, add to the Bible, subtract from the Bible, malign the Bible, pervert the Bible, and do everything within his power to spray paint graffiti upon the sacred text of God’s Word.  Sometimes he will do it through open attacks of heretical religions and at other times he will seek to be more stealth-like in his approach.  In either case, his mission is to silence the Word of God.

God wrote the Bible.  In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”  The word, “breathed out by God” is a compound Greek term – θεόπνευστος “Theos” – God and “Pneō” – breath.  Literally speaking, the Scriptures find their source in God as He literally breathed them into existence through human authors.  As we consider the fact that God has written a book and preserved it through the ages, it goes without saying that the devil would center his attack on the Scriptures.  As the devil reads the Bible, he sees himself in it and undoubtedly he has read the ending and knows of God’s sovereign judgment that awaits him.  Because the devil hates the ending, he will center his attack on the beginning of the Bible and continue to twist its meaning and message into something other than what God has truly said.  The story of the Bible centers upon Christ – the Son of God.  In the beginning of John’s gospel, we see his description of Jesus as “the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.”  What did the devil seek to do with Jesus?  He fueled the murder of Jesus and tried to silence Him by death.  Why should we be amazed that he continues to try to silence God by silencing the Bible?

As we survey our present day, we see that we are in a day of famine.  Our famine is not for lack of Bibles.  We have many Bibles in America.  Our famine is with the right preaching and the right submission to God’s Word as He continues to speak through the sacred Scriptures.  As the agenda of silencing God continues to roll forward, the thundering pulpit turns into a muzzled rumble and rattle.  As pastors cave to the pressures to “grow” their church through fleshly man centered agendas, the devil presses the mute button upon God’s Word.  As this attack continues to grow it suppress the Word of Truth and leads pastors down the road of pragmatism.  Seeker sensitive approaches to increase church attendance and entertain the crowds is a perpetual gagging of God.  What flows from that broken and unbiblical pattern is “VBS for adults” and ultimately culminating in what Christian Smith has coined, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  So long as the Word is minimized, we will continue to teach a Christless Christianity.  This message will major on morals and minor on the message of the gospel.  All of this is the fruit of the devil’s attack upon God’s Word.  This pattern leads to agnosticism which eventually gives way to atheism.  A low view of Scripture will always lead to a low view of God.  In many cases it will lead to a complete denial of God.  

No matter if you’re a pastor who labors in the Word each week or if you’re a homeschool mother, it remains our duty to rightly handle the Word of God.  How we handle Scripture matters.  We should not be surprised by the constant agenda to normalize Mormonism and homosexuality in our culture.  Both movements have an agenda to twist God’s Word or silence it completely.  The message of Jesus is a threatening message to Mormonism and Joseph Smith’s crazy ideas of salvation and eternal life.  The message of Jesus is a threat to the growing homosexual agenda in the United States.  In our modern culture, the Bible is treated like fictional literature.  The Bible is often ignored by the scientific community, rejected when reconsidering marriage laws, and bypassed by the culture as many ethical laws and ordinances are being redefined and rewritten.

Therefore, we should not be surprised by these attacks.  Satan attacked God’s Word in the Garden of Eden and he attacked the Word that became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  He has not ceased his attack in our present day.  We must look for it.  We must be ready for it.  We must see it as it’s revealed in the world of politics.  We must learn to spot it in our entertainment outlets.  We must be on guard as this attack will walk through the front door of our church buildings.  We must not give up.  Like Timothy, we are called to stand firm upon the firm foundation of the sacred Scriptures.  Just as the Reformers stood firmly upon Sola Scriptura, we are to remain steadfast upon the Word of the God in our present evil culture.

Paul warned of the attacks that would come upon God’s Word and the church at Ephesus (Acts 20).  In 1 and 2 Timothy, that attack was in full bloom under Timothy’s ministry.  By the time we come to Revelation 2, we see Jesus’ warning of judgment upon the church at Ephesus if they did not repent.  Sadly, as we survey church history we see that apparently the church at Ephesus died.  What a tragedy.  What will be the legacy of your family?  What will be the lasting legacy of your church?  Stand firm upon God’s Word!

Things Are Great – I Need To Resign!

Things Are Great – I Need To Resign!

Imagine being part of a church where things are going exceptionally well, the leadership team unified and working great together, the church members are growing in biblical truth, sanctification, and multiplying in number.  Imagine being part of a healthy and grounded church and after hearing your pastor speak of everything that’s going well in the church, he finishes his speech by explaining that he needs to resign.

No, it wasn’t based on a scandal.  No scandalous skeleton will come crashing out of a closet two months down the road.  It wasn’t division among the leadership or the church family that led to his decision to resign.  It was his decision to better care for and manage his family.  That’s right, he determined that he could better care for his own family through a resignation and pursuit of secular employment.

Allow me to explain the situation in greater detail.  I was made aware today that one of my friends that I met during my doctoral studies at SBTS had resigned from his church this past week.  I made contact with him and asked him if he was moving to another church.  He replied, “Into retirement.  Looking for a few options.”  Pastors in their 30’s don’t retire, so that caused me to make a phone call where I received the full explanation.  No, he wasn’t attacked by a deacon board.  No, he isn’t leaving the ministry.  No, he has not determined that he wasn’t called by God to pastor.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  He is convinced that God has indeed called him to pastor and his church is doing exceptionally well.  The decision was made based on some “strange providence” that occurred in his life.

He was participating in a touch football game and experienced an injury with his shoulder that required surgery.  It was through that event that it was discovered that his body is producing cholesterol at an extremely rapid pace.  After an extensive lifestyle overhaul that caused him to lose 30 pounds through diet and exercise, the problem has not gone away.  The doctors have narrowed his problem to stress.  Apparently stress (good and bad stress alike) can cause your body to produce cholesterol in your body and in my friend’s case, it has done so at an elevated rate.  Even good stress from ministry (a good burden) has produced this health threatening problem.

In an attempt to care for his wife and children and manage his family well, my friend decided it would be best to resign from his church and seek secular employment.  It is his goal to see if his body will respond well to this change.  If so, he will be able to better care for and manage his family.  In the process, he will trust God to make clear how he is to be used in ministry.  His calling has not changed.  His giftedness from God remains the same.  His circumstances have changed and therefore, the way he will serve in ministry has been altered either temporarily or even permanently.

As I listened to his explanation on the phone today, I must agree with him.  God has called him to care for his wife and children.  If ministry has provided an assault on his health that will not enable him to properly care for his family, he has made the right decision to resign and move toward a change to see if this will be the answer.  As I consider my friend’s decision, I think of the priority of our ministry that God expects of us to our own family.  Missionaries who leave the mission field to care for aging parents are not abandoning the call of God.  They are seeking to care for their family – which is indeed a ministry.  Pastors who resign from their church in order to care for their parents are not turning their back on God, His Word, or the church of Jesus Christ.  Such men are taking ministry seriously – their first ministry is to their home.

As we think on such issues, let us be aware of the following:

  1. We must pray for our pastors to be free in their ministry and preaching rather than consumed with stress.
  2. We need to remember that all of us have ministries that we are involved with, but our first ministry is to our home.
  3. Our home should never prevent us from serving God, but serving God should not prevent us from ministering to our families.

1 Timothy 3:4 – He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Josh Buice

 

 

So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder – Part II

So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder – Part II

*This is part 2 of a previous post – So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder.

If a man walked into my office and said that he felt a calling to be an elder in the local church, I would counsel the man according to the qualifications of an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  I would speak with the man about his calling and election – to make sure they are true (2 Peter 1:10).  I would then look into the man’s life and verify that he understands the depth of responsibility for that office and I would further examine his life in accordance with the qualifications found in Scripture.  Below you will see the areas of his life that I would examine, critique, and ask serious questions about.

  • Does this man have a firm understanding of his conversion by Christ?
  • How is he skilled in teaching the Word?
  • How trustworthy is this man in the eyes of people?
  • How faithful is this man to his wife?
  • What is this man’s character like?
  • How faithful is he to the local church?
  • How involved is he in ministry areas?
  • Is this man a self-controlled man?
  • How is his reputation in the community?
  • How does the man handle money?
  • How faithful is he to his family?
  • How long has he been a believer?

Does this man have a firm understanding of his conversion by Christ?

Every few years I run across men who were already serving in ministry before they were converted.  Likewise, I unfortunately hear stories about unconverted men who were serving in ministry and eventually walked away from the pulpit and the faith after ripping apart a local church.  Therefore, it is essential that any man who desires the office of an elder should be a genuine Christian.  The office of an elder is not a CEO position in the business world, rather, it’s an office of oversight and ministry through the Word of God.

How is he skilled in teaching the Word?

A quick glance at the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 for the office of elder and deacon will reveal many similarities.  However, if you view them a bit closer, you will see one of the main distinctions in the office of elder and deacon is that the office of elder requires giftedness in teaching the Word.  You can be a deacon and serve the church faithfully without any giftedness in teaching the Word, but you can’t be called by God to be an elder unless God has equipped you with the ability to teach the Bible.  I would look at his teaching ability and ask myself if his giftedness is obvious to those under his teaching ministry (small groups, Sunday school, or any other area of teaching).  If the church doesn’t seem to verify his teaching ability, it could be that he isn’t called to the office of an elder.

How trustworthy is this man in the eyes of people?

Is this man trustworthy?  A man with a character that does not allow people to extend trust toward him will never be able to serve as an elder in the church.  Beyond teaching the Bible, an elder is to care for the flock of God.  Pastoral care involves counseling people, leading people, serving people, and preaching the Word to people.  If the people can’t trust an elder – his ministry will not be effective in any of his required areas.

How faithful is this man to his wife?

The covenant of marriage is extremely important as it displays a picture of the gospel.  If a man cannot be faithful to his wife, he cannot effectively lead the church or preach Ephesians 5 to his congregation.  Therefore, any man who is unfaithful to his bride will likely be unfaithful to God’s bride – the church.  Steadfastness is required in marriage and it’s also required in ministry.

What is this man’s character like?

What is character?  Someone once said, “Character is what you are when you’re all alone in the dark.”  The reality is, character is something that can be faked for a while, but eventually the mask will be removed through life events.  How does a man handle his time, finances, family, relationships, and other areas of life?  Can he be trusted?  Solid character is essential for the office of an elder.  “Their [godly elders] humility makes them difficult to offend; their holiness makes them easy to trust; their gentle speech makes them easy to hear as sources of correction or critique; and their hospitality provides a context for spiritual encouragement and edification.”1

How faithful is he to the local church?

It sounds crazy, but if a man can’t be found faithfully attending the gathering of the church for worship, how does he expect to lead the church?  Furthermore, a lack of attendance with the gathered church is a deeper problem than his name not appearing on the list with a checkmark beside it.  Mark Dever writes, “Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending.”2 How can a man be called by God to lead as an elder if he doesn’t have a desire to be with the church for prayer, singing, giving, and preaching of Scripture?  The gathered assembly is first about God, but we must not forget the importance of loving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and serving with our spiritual gifts.  Hebrews 10:25 warns us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and any man who has a problem in this area will likely never gain the trust of the congregation for oversight as an elder.

How involved is he in ministry areas?

The man who desires the office of an elder should be examined in the area of his current ministry service.  How is he serving the people?  Does he seem to have a burden for people?  Does he seem to have a desire to teach, serve, and love people?  How faithful is he in his service to the Lord?  These are important things to consider before confirming any man to the office of an elder.

Is this man a self-controlled man?

Does the man who aspires to the office of an elder seem to have self-control in the area of finances?  Does he exhibit self-control in the area of his fleshly appetites?  Does he display self-control when put under pressure?  Is he a man who has a short fuse and is constantly losing his temper?  A self-controlled man will be someone who can keep his tongue, his spending habits, his eating habits, and his sexual behavior in submission to the Holy Spirit.  Any man who is unable to be self-controlled in his lifestyle is someone who will bring reproach upon the name of Christ and shame to the church of the living God.  Don Whitney writes, “Our bodies are inclined to ease, pleasure, gluttony, and sloth. Unless we practice self-control, our bodies will tend to serve evil more than God.”3

How is his reputation in the community?

The elder’s responsibility is to care for the church – not the community.  However, if the elder has a poor reputation in the community, he will never be able to lead the church to reach the community with the gospel.  Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 to “do the work of an evangelist.”  Timothy was an elder and served as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  However, he was called by God to be directly involved in the work of evangelism in the community.  The secular community may not “love” an elder in a church because of his faithfulness to the gospel, but the community should not be able to classify the man as unfaithful to the gospel.

How does the man handle money?

Thomas Watson writes, “Solomon got more hurt by his wealth, than he got good by his wisdom.”4 History is replete with elders who have been swept away by the rushing tide of financial mismanagement.  Unfortunately, when Satan causes an elder to fall in the area of money, it brings great harm to the congregation and a lack of trust toward pastoral leadership.  Is the man above reproach in the area of money?  Can he be trusted?  Is he greedy in this area in his own personal life?  Is he constantly trying to gain in the area of finances?  Could it be said that he is constantly trying to leverage money to his benefit when financial decisions are made in his ministry area?  Any man who has sticky fingers or crafty motives should not be established as an elder in a local congregation.

How faithful is he to his family?

If a man is unable to pastor his family, how is he going to pastor a larger family made up of many families known as the church?  Faithfulness in the small areas of life are proving markers of trust prior to moving to larger areas of trust.  When it comes to the church, the way a man leads his family is the way he will lead the church.  If he is disorganized at home, he will likewise be disorganized in ministry leadership.  If he places little emphasis upon prayer in the home, he will likewise place little emphasis upon it in ministry.  If his family life is centered around worldly things, his ministry will likewise follow that same pattern.

How long has he been a believer?

Beyond a true conversion, the elder should have a certain amount of spiritual maturity prior to taking his office of oversight.  Each case is unique and some people mature quickly, but we must note the clear warning that the Scripture provides regarding the dangers of a recent convert being elevated to the office of elder.  1 Timothy 3:6 says, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”  How does one define “recent convert” in this passage?  Is one or two years a recent convert?  Once again, I think it should be examined on an individual case, but in all cases the warning should be taken seriously.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion. He is gentle, and yet he rules his class. He is loving, but he does not wink at sin. He has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp. He has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom.”

For His glory!

Pastor Josh Buice

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.  Mark Dever and Paul Alexander – The Deliberate Church, 154.

2.  Mark Dever – Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 171.

3.  Don Whitney – Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 132.

4.  Thomas Watson – A Puritan Golden Treasury, 249.

 

So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder…

So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder…

*This is part 1 of a 2 part series….

I remember growing up in a home where my parents taught me to “respect my elders.”  As I grew older, I understand why that was so very important.  However, as I became a believer and started to study through the Word of God, I came across the term “elder” in Scripture.  As I studied the two offices of the local church, I learned that deacons serve and elders lead.  However, the title “elder” is in reference to pastor rather than a class of elderly people in the congregation.

As a pastor, I now have a true appreciation for both offices of the church recognized by the Word of God which are elder and deacon.  The elders (most commonly known as pastors) lead the church with visionary oversight and teach the Word of God while deacons carry out the service needs of the church.  As a lead pastor in the church I serve, I can testify to the need for multiple overseers (pastors) in the church.  That is the pattern that we see laid out for us in the Word – each church having multiple elders who oversee and lead the church through the Word of God.  However, if a man came to my office and told me he was aspiring to the office of an elder, I would observe several areas of his life before moving toward laying hands on him publicly and recognizing him as a pastor in the church.

In a conversation that I had on Facebook with several people concerning this issue, I asked the following question:  “If a man in your church approached you and said he had a desire for the office of elder (pastor) – what three areas of his life would you observe before moving forward?”  I received the following answers:

Chris Williams Family, business, social
Looking for the evidence of a call to holiness, integrity, and faithfulness in all three as a start 🙂

Jared Moore ‎1) Whether he meets the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3. 2) Whether he’s already trying to shepherd folks in your church and/or outside. 3) A friendly dinner or two with him and his family to discern their thoughts, and his managing of his household.

Brad Walker ‎1. Character (meeting qualifications of 1 Tim. 3. & Titus) and reputation
2. Giftedness and desire to teach 3. Right Doctrine

Wayne Bray I would begin by asking him, what makes him desire the position? While Paul does word it in this way in 1 Tim chapter 3, the vast majority of biblical examples of the calling are God seeking out the man, not the man seeking out God. I’ve got to admit, though I desire the position of pastor today, I did not desire it the day God called me. I don’t see the calling to pastor as something someone “decides” they want to do. Having said that, I would still counsel the brother in regards to the calling because God does eventually place this desire to obey His calling. For me, it’s important which came first – the personal desire of man or the divine calling of God?  Second, I would confirm salvation experience. While this might be assumed by us many times, I have seen and heard far too many pastors who are obviously preaching a different gospel than that of Christ. Many preachers today preach a gospel that has NO power to save. Therefore, a man’s “desire” to be a pastor doesn’t make him saved. Third, I would get into the issues mentioned above by everyone else. These are all listed as qualifications, but we need be extremely careful we not choose 1 or 2 as a litmus test. Far too many men are deemed qualified by churches simply b/c he meets their favorite qualification. They might overlook other deficiencies that are just as important to the calling of God. No man is truly “qualified,” and the man who approaches this issue as if he is personally qualified (w/o the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Spirit) to serve in this capacity, should be shown the door.

Brad Warren after examining his marriage and children, his history of service already in his local church, and his command of basic doctrine….I’d try to talk him out of it! If he persists, then we may have something

Kevin Cuthbertson Brad Warren hit on what I would have added to the conversation. Many want to lead who have never desired to serve. I don’t believe you are ready to do the first if you have not been doing the second. If a person seems gifted to lead yet is not active in the service of the church, then he is not disqualified….but I would say postponed. Likewise, does he have a grasp of the Scriptures. Elders are set apart by their ability to teach. Sure this means that their lifestyle shows forth the gospel but do they have an understanding of the story of redemption and are they able to clearly communicate that.

As I considered the words of my pastor friends and my fellow pastor – Kevin Cuthbertson, I agree that the qualifications laid out for us in the Word (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) are the foundation to this decision.  As we expand on what we see in the qualifications, we may also look at several other areas that are directly connected.  My response to a man who walked into my office claiming he has a calling on his life to be an elder would begin with a close examination of the following areas of his life (both spiritual and practical).
  • How trustworthy is this man in the eyes of people?
  • How faithful is this man to his wife?
  • What is this man’s character like?
  • How faithful is he to the local church?
  • How involved is he in ministry areas?
  • How is he skilled in teaching the Word?
  • Is this man a self-controlled man?
  • How is his reputation in the community?
  • How does the man handle money?
  • How faithful is he to his family?
  • How long has he been a believer?

Part II of this post will be an explanation of why these areas are extremely important for any man who aspires to the office of an elder!

Mark Dever writes, “An elder is simply a man of exemplary, Christlike character who is able to lead God’s people by teaching them God’s Word in a way that profits them spiritually.”

For His glory!

Pastor Josh Buice