Book Review: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection By Thabiti M. Anyabwile
A few months ago my wife asked me to give her some suggestions for devotional reading. She wanted something that would help stir up her heart in devotion to Christ as she contemplated entering a new year. I did give her a handful of suggestions, and she has benefited from them, but by the time I got through half a chapter of this book I knew that what I had in my hands was exactly what she needed!
In much the same way that Isaiah calls us to “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9), and the Apostle asks us to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1), Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile invites us to take a long look at Jesus Christ. His new book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, is both a call to enter into the contemplation of our Savior, and an excellent catalyst to assist us in the undertaking. This is a wonderfully heart-stirring book, and I heartily recommend it to every Christian reader.
Pastor Thabiti uses five questions, rooted in five passages of Scripture, to help us to dwell on the mystery and glory of Christ’s death and resurrection. In Chapter 1 he asks, “Is There No Other Way?”, drawn from Matt. 26:42, “Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”. As we are drawn to contemplate the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection for the accomplishment of our salvation and the display of God’s glory, I trust your heart’s devotion to Christ will be as strengthened as mine was.
In Chapter 2 we consider the question “Why Have You Forsaken Me?” from Matt. 27:46. This question brings us to consider what actually took place that day as Christ hung on the cross, and the effects that the answer to that question have on our hearts are truly limitless. In Chapter 3 the question for contemplation is “Where, O Death, is Your Victory?” in light of 1 Cor. 15:55. Which bids us to think about the treasure that is ours as a result of Christ’s finished work.
“Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?” is asked in Chapter 4, as we are brought to Luke 24:5. And Finally, we consider the question “Do You Not Know These Things?” in Chapter 5, as we consider Luke 24:18 “Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’” In this final chapter we are brought to contemplate not only what we believe about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but on what basis we believe these things, as the subject of epistemology is raised to a fruitful end.
Each of the five chapters concludes with a list of additional questions for contemplation. These are not the typical study questions that just seem like they are meant to see if you actually read the chapter. These are questions well suited as aids to help us to think long and hard about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to contemplate His Glory, to dwell upon His matchless grace, until our hearts are bursting with praise to His glorious name.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The last time my heart was this stirred by a book was when I read “The Heart of Christ” by Thomas Goodwin! There exists no true Christian who would not benefit from taking the time to think deeply upon the majesty of our Savior, and this book is a fantastic means to that end.
I also recommend listening to the Confessing Baptist podcast’s interview with Pastor Anyabwile about this book.
The Psalmist describes the blessed man as he whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2). And the Apostle Paul himself declares that he “delight[s] in the law of God according to the inward man”(Rom. 7:22). Yet a large portion of the professing Christian church today would instantly condemn anyone who delights in the law as a “legalist.” The very idea that the Psalmist and the Apostle were guilty of legalism is on its very face preposterous. But let me further put this idea to rest with a simple truth. The legalist does not, indeed cannot delight in the law of God, for whenever the law of God is misused and abused as a means of procuring favor with God it is an unbearable burden! That is why legalism inevitably twists, truncates and manipulates the law of God into something that it is not, something that the legalist is able to fulfill, at least in his own mind.
Undoubtedly, the reason behind the disdain so many professing Christians hold toward the law of God stems from the fact that they have never bowed the knee to King Jesus. They have entered the “church” by means of an easy-believism “gospel” and have never surrendered their hearts and lives to the dominion and Lordship of their rightful King. They sit securely upon the throne of their own heart and sternly reject the right of anyone, including the God who holds their life in His hands, to tell them how they must live. Every time they are confronted with the law of God their conscience is reminded of the fact that they owe obedience to one greater than themselves and therefore they reject and despise it. There is only one solution for anyone in this frame of mind: Repent and believe. Surrender your life to the King of kings and Lord of lords and trust in Him alone to save you from your sin. Give yourself to Him, take His yoke upon you, for it is indeed light, and He will carry you to glory.
How Can I Delight in that which Brings Guilt and Shame?
I want to focus, however, on a question that others may have. Even those who have truly been converted and love the Lord Jesus may still wonder at times “How can I delight in the law of God? It is the law that brings my sin to mind. It reminds me of how much I fail my Lord and it fills my conscience with guilt and shame. How can I delight in something that does that?” I believe the answer to this question will not be difficult for us if we just look at the conscience from a Biblical perspective.
Unregenerate sinners have various unbiblical means of dealing with guilt, and unfortunately, these habits are not instantly eliminated from our minds at the moment of conversion. We need to consciously recognize and reject them. I will focus on two primary ways that the world deals with guilt and then contrast these with the means the Bible gives us for dealing with it.
Balance Guilt with Blame
One of the most common things unbelievers do with a guilty conscience is to shift the blame from themselves by concentrating the focus of their energy on someone else doing something that they consider to be so much worse. Perhaps the clearest example of this in our society is the strange marriage of pro-abortion advocacy with animal rights advocacy. It seems so illogical that those who have no concern for the rights of a human being as long as that human being resides within the womb of its mother should at the very same time spent their time and energy fighting for the “rights” of anything and everything within the animal kingdom. Until you realize that this principle is at work. The guilt they have for advocating murder in some cases is somehow, in their conscience, relieved by focusing on someone else doing something cruel to something else. The Christian is not immune to this principle however. How often, when faced with the guilt of our own sin, do we instinctively point to someone else doing something worse instead of dealing with our sin Biblically?
Pretend it isn’t Sin
The second of the two most common ways that the world deals with the guilt of sin is simply to pretend it isn’t sin. This stands out the most in our society in the homosexual agenda. The fight for “gay marriage” isn’t about “marriage equality” at all. It is about sinners trying to quiet their consciences. They know what they do is wrong, but they want to do it anyway. They fight to convince themselves and are able at times to quiet their stubborn consciences. They do everything in their might to remove every reminder that what they love to do is in fact sin. But every time they are confronted with someone who holds to the Biblical truth their conscience is again disquieted and this opposing view must be silenced so that they can return to their slumber! That is why the simple truth that according to the Bible homosexuality is sin, is being outlawed as “hate-speech” in place after place. Again, unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this practice. We have certain sins we are quite comfortable with, and when our conscience is awakened by the law of God our first reaction can be that we don’t want to hear it. Keep the law to yourself so I can go on in my blissful ignorance! Well, needless to say this is not how Christians should deal with guilt.
Dealing with Guilt Biblically
Before looking at how we should deal with guilt according to the word of God, I just want to point out one important thing about both of these worldly ways of dealing with it. Neither of them does anything at all to actually deal with the problem of guilt. They are both nothing but mind games! They are means of self-deception, nothing more. The Bible provides us with the one and only means of dealing with guilt that actually fixes the problem! What is that? Short answer: Christ.
When the law confronts us with the guilt of our sin, there is only one thing to do: Flee to Christ. 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Don’t hide from your sin, don’t cling to your sin, take your sin to Christ! Confess and forsake your sin and leave it at the foot of the cross. He is faithful, not only to forgive you and cleanse you from the guilt of your sins. But he is also faithful to cleanse you from that sin. It is Christ and Christ alone who can give you the strength to forsake that sin, to cause you to see it the way He sees it and flee from it in disgust.
If you allow the law of God to work in your heart in this way it will inevitably become a delight to you. Allow the law to test your heart, to go down to the very depths of your soul and shine it’s light upon you. Let it expose your most intimate and secret sins, those you have been hiding even from yourself. But when you come face to face with the wickedness of your own heart in the mirror of God’s holy law do not despair. Do not be overcome with the dreadfulness and despicableness that you will inevitably find. For no matter how vile and putrid it is, the blood of Christ has more than enough power to wash you white as snow. Take it directly to the foot of the cross and lay it before your compassionate Savior. Oh what a Sweet Savior He is, for He will draw you unto Himself and cover you with His undying love.
The Question Reversed
So you see I must reverse the question. Dear Christian, how can you fail to delight in the law of the Lord. How can you not delight in that which constantly draws you to the foot of the cross and causes you to lay hold of your Savior afresh and cling to Him with all of your might? The great delight of the law of God is that it enables us to find our greatest delight in Christ Himself!
In part two I will share a number of further thoughts to help enable us to be that blessed man of Psalm 1, constantly delighting in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
Ever since my first exposure to the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God I have been fascinated by the subject of Compatibilism. God has decreed from eternity past whatsoever shall come to pass, including the actions of sinful men, yet men are still fully responsible for the sinfulness of their actions and God is in no way the author of sin. Meditating on this subject has brought me countless hours of fruitful contemplative reflection over the years.
By far the most substantive and thorough treatment of the subject I have ever had the pleasure of reading is a book that has been long out of print.
The Court of the Gentiles, Part IV, Book III, Wherein the Nature of Divine Predetermination is Fully Explicated and Demonstrated, both in the General, as also more Particularly, as to the Substrate Mater, or Entitative Act of Sin: with A Vindication of Calvinists and others from that Blasphemous Imputation of Making God the Author of Sin,
by Theophilus Gale, published in 1678. I believe Gale was a professor of Philosophy and a member of Thomas Goodwin’s church. (One day I would love to see a republication of this momentous work in contemporary English, Gale uses a lot of words that are no longer found in an unabridged dictionary.) Gale’s work is unique in that it is both philosophically sound and profoundly Biblical. The doctrine of Compatibilism is proved through Scripture, not philosophy. The doctrine is, quite simply, forced upon us if we hold to the conviction that all things in Scripture are necessarily true. Where Gale excels all others is in his ability to demonstrate that these truths can all be held together in a way that is indeed philosophically satisfying as well as faithful to the whole counsel of God. While I may have begun my study of the subject of Compatibilism as an intellectual pursuit, as I began to see it throughout the word of God it became much more than that. I now recognize this principle to be one of the most comforting truths revealed in Scripture.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to preach at Emmasdale Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia. When I asked Pastor Makashinyi if there was a subject he would like me to address, he told me that some in the church were fairly new to the Reformed faith, and that some basic teaching in that area would be helpful. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share the Biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty (rightly described as Compatibilism), as it is presented in Scripture, in the hope that it might bring them the same comfort that it has afforded me in times of distress and trial. I did not enter into the philosophical realm, as this was a sermon, not a lecture. But I did my best to set forth the Biblical evidence and apply it to our lives.
I would simply ask that you might overlook my lack of eloquence in the hope that you may experience the same consolation to your soul that this doctrine has afforded me.
1 God has Decreed in Himself, from all Eternity, by the most wise and holy Counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever come to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin, nor has fellowship with any therein, nor is violence offered to the will of the Creature, nor yet is the liberty, or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established, in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power, and faithfulness in accomplishing his Decree.—1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
Resting in God’s Decrees (sermon outline)
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
I. God’s Decree is whatever comes to pass.
Isaiah 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand:
Isaiah 43:13 Indeed before the day was, I am He; And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?”
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, “My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, “He has no hands’?
Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
Psalm 115:3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.
Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Romans 11:36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
II. Including the sinful actions of men.
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
Acts 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Acts 3:18 But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
Acts 4:27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
III. This does nothing to eliminate the sinner’s guilt.
Isaiah 10:5-12 “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. 6I will send him against an ungodly nation, And against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, To seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7Yet he does not mean so, Nor does his heart think so; But it is in his heart to destroy, And cut off not a few nations. 8For he says, “Are not my princes altogether kings? 9Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? 10As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols, Whose carved images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11As I have done to Samaria and her idols, Shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols?”‘ 12Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks.”
2 Samuel 16:7-12 Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! 8 The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11 And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. 12 It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.”
2 Samuel 19:19 Now Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king when he had crossed the Jordan. 19 Then he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart.
1 Kings 2:8-9 “And see, you have with you Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a malicious curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim. But he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the LORD, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Now therefore, do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man and know what you ought to do to him; but bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood.”
IV. This does not make God the Author of Sin!
1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Genesis 50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Job 1:6-22 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” 9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” 12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house; 14 and a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided them and took them away—indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 16 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 17 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, raided the camels and took them away, yes, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 18 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “ Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity (evil)?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
V. This should be one of our greatest comforts.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
(How God used an Arminian Bible college to make me a Calvinist)
My wife and I were converted in a conservative Southern Baptist church in Sioux Falls, SD. Growing up, I had attended United Methodist and Evangelical Covenant churches where the preaching was very bland and easy-believism was the norm. This SBC church was the first place I had ever heard sound expository preaching, and in my extreme naivety I assumed that all Baptist churches were like this one, standing firmly on the inerrancy of Scripture, preaching boldly against sin and faithfully proclaiming the gospel. So when I “surrendered to preach” I enrolled in the local Baptist college which had a 3-3 program with the North American Baptist seminary in town. It only took a few weeks on campus to realize that all Baptists are not conservative and this college was no place to train for the ministry. So I spent quite a bit of time researching for the most conservative Southern Baptist Bible college I could find. My search led me to Florida Baptist Bible College in Graceville, FL.
Fav Point Calvinist!
Moving from South Dakota to the Florida panhandle in January was awesome! It was -18 degrees when we left and in the 60’s when we arrived. The day after we moved into the on-campus married housing I was enjoying the balmy weather and chatting with my new neighbor in our shared front lawn, when a senior student stopped to say hello. He had just “made the loop”, visiting all the Southern Baptist seminaries in order to decide which one to attend for his post-graduate studies. At some point in the conversation he said to my neighbor, “You’ll never believe what they got for a president at Southern. –a FIVE point Calvinist!” :O (He was referring to Dr. Mohler of course.) I had never heard the term before, so after the senior had driven away I asked my neighbor, “What is a five point Calvinist?” He didn’t know exactly how to define it, and he seemed somewhat neutral on the subject, but he made it quite clear that most students looked at it as a very bad thing.
A few days later we were having dinner with another new student and his wife. When the fact that I liked Spurgeon came up in the conversation I was told “Oh, you must be a Calvinist.” To which I had to reply, “I don’t know what a Calvinist is.” My friend was still in the discovery phase, but his explanation was enough to peak my interest. I was very busy with all the various duties required in the first semester of a new college, a new job and family (at that time we had 2 children), but I knew this was an issue I wanted to learn more about.
I joined the Theology Club, hoping to engage in some additional “iron sharpening” and fellowship. This hope, unfortunately, was very short lived. We had only one meeting that I can recall. At that meeting the decision was made to host a debate: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I was pretty excited, thinking this would be of great benefit to my understanding of these matters. Within a couple of days my excitement was turned to dismay. The college had forbidden us from having a debate on the topic! Their suggestion for a better topic of debate: abortion. I was completely dumbfounded! The theology club isn’t allowed to debate a theological issue? What in the world is there to debate about murdering babies? What a joke! Needless to say, the Theology Club simply disbanded. By this time I had two friends who shared my conservative views, and we spent most of our spare time talking about theology.
Finally, a Definition
It seemed like a day could not pass without hearing something in class or on campus about Calvinism, “five pointers”, or something of that nature. I remember quite clearly when I finally found out what “five point Calvinism” actually was. I was up late, (about 1:30 am as I recall) working on a paper, when I had to look up a term in my “Dictionary of Theological Terms”. As I was putting the book down, it suddenly struck me, maybe the term “five point Calvinist” is in here. Well sure enough it was! Under the heading “Five points of Calvinism” I found the TULIP definition as expressed in the words of J.I. Packer. I eagerly dove in, wondering what monstrous doctrine I was about to uncover.
I began to read:
Total Depravity… well that’s clearly Biblical, all men are born dead in trespasses and sins, why would anyone have a problem with that?
Unconditional Election… Why would anyone disagree with this either? If all men are completely unable to choose God what else could be the case? And besides, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Limited Atonement… Well that’s clearly wrong, 1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Irresistible Grace… Of course, God’s grace cannot fail to accomplish His purpose.
Perseverance of the Saints… Well Duh. How could anyone ever have eternal life temporarily?
Ok, ok, what is going on here? Why is everybody so worked up about “five point Calvinism”? Four of the five points are as plain as the nose on my face. I remember waking my wife up and reading each point to her and asking “This is Biblical isn’t it? What’s wrong with that? Am I missing something?” My wife didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, but she agreed with me that four of the five points were obviously Biblical. What a realization, I was a four point Calvinist before I even knew what the word Calvinism meant. Funny how serious Bible reading and expository preaching can bring that about, isn’t it?
Arminian Antics and Strawmen
My friends and I became convinced that someone at the college was coaching chapel speakers, asking them to deride Calvinism whenever possible. I distinctly recall one speaker, when he came across the term elect in his text, giving a completely irrelevant explanation of its meaning and concluding with the declaration: “And that’s the only place election appears in the Bible!” We looked at each other in disbelief. Did he know he was speaking at a Bible college, to people who have Bibles?
Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Calvinism that I can remember was in my Christian Education class. The instructor had for some reason brought up a question about what you as a parent should do if your daughter stays out a couple hours past curfew. Immediately a voice from the other side of the room piped out, “If you’re a fav point Calvinist, she wuz sposed to come home late!” Of course this was met with abundant laughter.
But this anti-Calvinist atmosphere did do one thing for me and my friends. It drove us into the library. Oh the library, sigh… What a wonderful, peaceful, glorious place. There we devoured everything Calvinistic we could find. A.W. Pink, Ian Murray, Charles Spurgeon and John McArthur were the most helpful to me at first, and J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness gave me a taste for the puritans, and we all know what a treasure trove can be found there!
The Fifth Point
But even though many of the arguments I came across in defense of limited atonement seemed logical, I could not be convinced, not in the slightest. 1 John 2:2 was always ringing in my ears every time the subject came up. I prayed for understanding & spent much time in meditation over that verse. I then decided to do all the research I could and delve as deeply as possible into the meaning of that verse. I had my Complete Word Study New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, and I was determined to get to the bottom of every word and phrase. Then suddenly, something amazing occurred to me. It was as though God just switched a light on in the dark room that I had been groping around in. Wait a minute, if that verse means what I thought it meant, then there can’t be anyone in hell! If Christ has propitiated God’s wrath toward every individual who ever lived or will live, then no one can ever suffer under God’s wrath. Scripture is clear that all who die outside of Christ will suffer eternally under the wrath of God. Well what do you know, I’m a five point Calvinist!
I left FBTC after only one semester, it was much more conservative than Sioux Falls College, but it was still far too liberal for me. I think I’ll always have fond memories of my time there, for it was the beginning of my “cage stage” of Calvinism. I wasn’t yet what I now consider reformed, but I was indeed a “Fav Point Calvinist”!
A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament
The Practice of the Parity of the Eldership
Pastor Dave Chanski
Poh Boon Sing argues that holding to parity of authority among the elders produces the effect of “undermining the Christian ministry.” However, it is the view that ratchets the authority of some elders up by a notch over other elders that tends to devalue the office of elder and thus to undermine the authority of the church’s leadership. This occurs in at least two ways.
First, to assert that one class of elders has supremacy or priority of authority in the rule of the church necessarily lessens the authority of the other class of elders. This has the effect of diminishing all authority in the church, since Christ has seen fit to entrust the “execution of power or duty” to the elders of the church. We have seen that the Scriptures teach that all elders have equal authority in the church. They are Christ’s appointed rulers in His church. To grant primacy of authority to one class of elders over another requires either the extra-scriptural concentration of authority in the one class or an anti-Scriptural dilution of the authority of the other. If those who hold to such a view are not endeavoring to turn “pastors” into despots, they must concede that they are watering down the authority of “ruling elders”. This is a serious enough problem in itself, especially in a day and age when the world despises authority in almost any form and when the church of Christ is itself rushing to capitulate to the dictates of the world. The problem becomes especially acute when a church at any given time is without any fully supported preaching elders. Once again, we will do well to heed the admonition of John Owen:
Their authority, also in the whole rule of the church, is every way the same with that of the other sort of elders; and they are to act in the execution of it with equal respect and regard from the church. And this institution is abused when either unmeet persons are called to this office, or those that are called do not attend unto their duty with diligence, or do act only in it by the guidance of the teaching officers, without a sense of their own authority, or due respect from the church.
Second, the unscriptural view of the inherent superiority of one class of elders and the inherent inferiority of another leads to another pitfall, the watering down of qualifications for the office of elder. Even if it is maintained with Owen that both “pastors” and “ruling elders” hold the same office and that the scriptural qualifications are therefore identical, the departure from Owen regarding relative authority will inevitably lead to a two-tiered approach to the qualifications for office. To dilute the qualifications for one class of elders in the church is to dilute the qualifications for the eldership as a whole. Such dilution of standards jeopardizes the credibility of the church’s government in the eyes of the church and world and, more seriously, puts souls at risk, particularly those of unqualified men who are placed in office (1 Tim. 3:7). On the other hand, we know of no scriptural means more calculated to uphold the integrity of the Christian ministry and to secure the esteem of the people for church leaders than the maintenance of scriptural standards for the office of elder.
We cannot pretend that upholding scriptural standards for elders will safeguard the church from sin and incompetence in the eldership—even apostolic churches had their Diotrephes. However, care at this point is a primary means of keeping men of Diotrephes’ persuasion and tendency out of the Christian ministry. Further, taking such care to insure that all the elders in a church meet the Bible’s qualifications for office gives greater grounds for confidence that the men comprising the eldership will be able to effectively work together in a calling that requires the flesh-withering labor of mutual submission, mutual trust, and real cooperation.
Another problem is likely to develop if we depart from the biblical norm of plurality. Failure to appreciate that a plurality of elders in each church is the scriptural ideal can produce laxness regarding a church’s desire and efforts to achieve this norm. Remember that Benjamin Keach saw neither scriptural warrant nor practical necessity for any other than preaching elders in the church. Dr. Poh similarly fails to appreciate the importance of pursuing the scriptural ideal at this point when he writes:
The principle of ‘plurality’ is being bandied about as a new form of ‘shibboleth’. In the face of these new problems, it would not be wise to stress ‘plurality’. No, it might not even be right to do so.
This sentiment is far from that of the Puritan Congregationalists of New England, who wrote in their Reforming Synod in 1679:
It is requisite that utmost endeavours should be used, in order unto a full supply of officers in the churches, according to Christ’s institution. The defect of these churches, on this account, is very lamentable, there being in most of the churches only one teaching officer for the burden of the whole congregation to lye upon. The Lord Christ would not have instituted pastors, teachers, ruling-elders (nor the apostles have ordained elders in every church-Acts 14.23; Titus 1.5,) if he had not seen there was need of them for the good of his people; and therefore for men to think they can do well enough without them, is both to break the second commandment, and to reflect upon the wisdom of Christ, as if he did appoint unnecessary officers in his church.
Owen himself argued in no uncertain terms that the Bible’s norm of a plurality should be the desire of every church for practical as well as theological reasons. He wrote, “It is difficult, if not impossible, on a supposition of one elder only in a church, to preserve the rule of the church from being prelatical or popular.” In other words, to neglect the scriptural norm of plurality is to implicitly invite either the perils of the prelatical system of Owen’s day or the absence of any genuine church government, such as exists in the congregationalism of our own day. Owen further argued that “The nature of the work whereunto they are called requires that, in every church consisting of any considerable number of members, there should be more elders than one.” His point is that the preservation of the life of godliness in both pastor and people, their maximum edification, and the good order of the church of Christ are all best served by a plurality of elders, not by single elder rule. He wrote, “That all these things can be attended unto and discharged in a due manner in any church, by one elder, is for them only to suppose who know nothing of them.” For good and weighty reasons, Owen held strong convictions regarding the importance of plurality. We do well to emulate him in this.
Another defect of any view which disallows or undermines parity of authority among elders is that it permits and promotes a carnal view of the ministry. Any such view is rooted in unbelief. Knowing the human heart and the track record of men—who share authority in government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, many conclude that effective government by a number of men who possess parity of authority is impracticable if not impossible to achieve. Poh writes:
The fact that one or two churches have functioned well with this system is no proof that it is correct. It only proves that the men involved have been long-standing friends who would have operated well in any other situation.
We agree that a harmoniously functioning eldership in which there is parity of authority does not prove that the system is biblical. That determination must be made exegetically. But a well-functioning eldership with parity does prove that the Bible’s order of church government is practicable. It is not only practicable, it is ideal, and its realization ought to be our aim. To suggest that such an eldership owes its harmony to quirks of personality is akin to attributing every God-honoring Christian marriage to mere compatibility of the partners and asserting that they would have been successful even if they had remained unregenerate. The reality and profundity of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is denied.
The Bible’s form of church government requires faith in the necessity and efficacy of the work of the Holy Spirit. If we walk by sight and not by faith in this area, we will inevitably settle for a pragmatic arrangement, having concluded that the Bible’s method is designed for implementation only by angels or spirits of just men made perfect. Functioning in harmony with parity requires more than simply having godly men in the eldership. It requires the present and powerful dynamic of the Holy Spirit. He alone can help men of diverse age, gift, native inclination, and experience to cooperate peaceably and successfully. Only the Spirit of God can enable men to soberly assess themselves (Rom. 12:3ff.). Only He can enable them to mortify pride. Only He can keep them from sinful contentions and enable them to submit to one another. Only He can enable a man to sincerely appreciate and welcome the genuine oversight of his own soul by men who may be his inferiors in age, learning, or gift. By the same token, it is only the Holy Spirit who can enable equals in authority to defer to those who possess greater gift, experience, insight, or familiarity in a given area or situation.
Dr. Poh sees it as an inherent weakness of parity that it gives rise to a “constant tension of having to give deference to one another.” However, pride will wreak havoc in any eldership, whether it has parity or not. No system of church government produced Diotrephes. Diotrephes spoiled the government of the church (3 John 9). The requirement of humility and the perpetual demand for submission is not peculiar to systems of church government holding to parity. It is required for the Christian ministry, period. If a man cannot defer to his fellow elders, how can he faithfully and effectively shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2f.)? If he cannot defer to his fellow elders, how can he be the servant of Christ’s people (Matt. 20:25-27)? If he cannot defer to his fellow elders, how can he truly esteem others better than himself (Phil. 2:3-5)? If he cannot defer to his fellow elders, how will he ever spend and be spent for men’s souls (2 Cor. 12:14f.)? If he cannot defer to his fellow elders, let that be the first clue that he is not fit to be an elder in the church of Christ.
A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament
The Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Parity of the Eldership
Pastor Sam Waldron
As we have seen in the previous chapter, no small part of Poh Boon Sing’s attack on the parity of the eldership is rooted in the claim that the ecclesiastical tradition most closely associated with the Particular or ‘ Reformed Baptists clearly distinguished between pastors and elders. This claim comes to its most pointed and important expression in Poh’s assertion that this distinction is “crystal clear” in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. This incredible claim seems very powerful. It contrasts strikingly with the reserved or restrained claims cited by Poh which I make in the exposition of the Confession. I, indeed, argue for the view that the Confession supports the parity of the eldership and rejects the pastor/elder distinction, but with less dogmatism than Poh claims for his interpretation of the Confession.
Poh Boon Sing notes in his defense of the pastor/elder distinction that I admit in my book, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith that there is some ambiguity in the Confession on this subject. The ambiguity to which I admitted was that its plain doctrine of two “offices in the churches (26:8, 11) appears to be somewhat clouded by its statement that pastors should be supported. What I precisely said is this:
The point of this paragraph is that Christ has appointed only two continuing offices in the local church—elders and deacons. Much more might be said, but the main proofs of this are these: (1) Only these two offices are mentioned in the classic New Testament passages on the continuing offices of the local church (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13). The implication is that there were no other offices. (2) The office of elder or presbyter, overseer or bishop, and pastor or shepherd, are one and the same (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Pet. 5:2; and 1 Tim. 3:2 with Eph. 4:11). It is common today to draw a distinction between pastors and elders. In Acts 20:17 and 28, and 1 Pet. 5:2 the elders are commanded to shepherd or pastor the church. In 1 Tim. 3:2 it is required that all elders be able to teach. Eph. 4:11’s pastor-teachers are simply elders. There are not three offices in the church—minister or pastor, elder, and deacon. There are only two offices—overseer-elder-pastor and deacon. Pastors and elders are the same. The biblical teaching should not be subtly undermined by terminology like senior pastor or assistant pastor.
The norm is a plurality of elders in each local church. This is the clear implication of both the Bible and the Confession. No instance of a New Testament church with only one elder exists. Universally, a plurality of elders is mentioned (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 5:12; Titus 1:5; Heb. 13:17; James 5:14).
It must be admitted that the position here asserted concerning the equivalence of the terms, pastor and elder, is not asserted unambiguously in the Confession. There are, indeed, statements which do seem clearly to equate pastors, elders, and bishops. In paragraph 8 the Confession speaks of “bishops or elders” as one of the two continuing offices in the church. This equation of “the office of bishop or elder” is again stated in paragraph 9. In paragraph 11 this equation of bishops and elders seems clearly to be extended to pastors when the Confession speaks of “the bishops or pastors of the churches.”
To be perfectly fair to the evidence, however, one must take into account the fact that in paragraph 10 where the financial support of elders is treated the term used is “pastors.” Furthermore, this paragraph no where states that those elder-pastors which are first and foremost to be supported are those “who work hard at preaching and teaching.” The implication of this might appear to be that all pastors (here distinguished from elders) should be supported. Yet, when the next paragraph equates bishops and pastors, this possible implication seems clearly to be contradicted. Another possible interpretation of this evidence might be that all elders should be preachers of the Word and, thus, supported by the church. While this interpretation provides a consistent interpretation of the evidence, it is difficult in my mind to see it as consistent with the clear teaching of paragraphs 8 and 9 that as a norm each church should have a plurality of elders. Could the Confession possibly be teaching that each church should normally have a plurality of elders and should support each one? This seems unlikely.
The interpretation which appears to do the most justice to the, admittedly ambiguous, language of the Confession emphasizes the qualifying phrase in paragraph 10, “according to their ability.” In the original Scripture proofs of the Confession 1 Tim. 5:17, 18 is cited at this point. Perhaps, the Confession is asserting that “ideally” all elders should be supported, but this phrase may add this thought: All elders should be supported according to the ability of the church and according to the stated priorities for pastoral support stated in the Bible. Whether or not this is precisely the right way of understanding 1 Tim. 5:17, 18, this interpretation does provide a consistent understanding of the statements of the Confession.
Any fair reader of these paragraphs will see that I was admitting that a greater clarity of statement might be wished in the Confession. I wished this in order that the Confession might not give the appearance of supporting the pastor/elder distinction which I was opposing from the Scriptures and on the basis of the Confession’s equation of bishops, elders, and pastors. It never occurred to me that someone might think to impose upon the Confession and the Reformed and Baptist movement such a pastor/elder distinction and claim that this is clearly the doctrine of the Confession. Now, therefore, I must say that if there is some slight ambiguity in the Confession viewed from the perspective of my denial of the pastor/elder distinction, there is a much greater problem for anyone who attempts to draw from it actual support for the pastor/elder distinction. I would much rather attempt to teach my view from the Confession than to defend the pastor/elder distinction from the Confession as Poh Boon Sing does.
The key statements of Chapter 26:8-11 of the Confession are italicized in the quotation below:
8 A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty,which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.
9 The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.
10The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.
11 Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.
Several comments will make plain the difficulty of interpreting these statements from the standpoint of the pastor/elder distinction. First, paragraph 8 asserts that there are only two offices in the church. Second, it equates the office of bishop and elder by using the phrase, bishops or elders. Third, paragraph 9 again equates the office of bishop and elder in the phrase, the office of bishop or elder in the church. Fourth, paragraph 11 equates the bishops of the church with the pastors in the phrase, the bishops or pastors of the churches, and asserts that it is their office to be instant in preaching the Word. In light of these plain statements it is a very small concern in paragraph 10 when the support of this office is discussed that only the term, pastor, is used. We may be bothered by the selection of this word. We may wish that another word had been selected, yet in itself there is nothing strictly inconsistent with our view in paragraph 10—as the comments above quoted from The Modern Exposition clearly show.
On the other hand the difficulties involved in imposing upon the Confession a preconceived pastor/elder distinction are really enormous. It runs counter to the explicit statements of the Confession equating bishops, elders, and pastors. This distinction is not derived and cannot be derived from the text of the Confession itself.
The only substantial reason to impose it upon or to read it into the Confession is the argument from church history given by Poh Boon Sing. The thrust of that argument is that we must interpret our Confession in light of the views of church government espoused by the Independents generally and John Owen particularly. While our faith does not stand in the wisdom of men—even good men like John Owen—, yet it may be well to point out that this mode of interpreting our Confession faces some very real difficulties. We admit, of course, that as Reformed Baptists we owe a great deal to the Independents and John Owen particularly with reference to our church government. Yet when we come to an issue as precise and fine as that about which Poh Boon Sing has taken issue with many Reformed Baptists in America , it is not so certain that we may simply read the Independents’ view into our Confession. I have argued in A Modern Exposition … that the immediate confessional ancestor of our 1689 Baptist Confession was, indeed, the Savoy Declaration of Faith and its platform of Church Polity. Independents edited this Confession from its own confessional mother, the Westminster.
When the Savoy’s Platform of Church Polity is examined carefully, it is plain that, though it was greatly influential in the construction of Chapter 26 of our Confession, its statements were not adopted thoughtlessly or uniformly. With reference to this whole issue of the pastor/elder distinction very important alterations were made in key statements imported into Chapter 26 from the Savoy platform. For instance, the Savoy teaches what has been called the four-office view of the church in the original form of its statement with regard to church offices. The language of this paragraph is identical to that of 26:8 of our Confession until it comes to the last few words. Here is how it reads with the language altered in the 1689 Confession italicized:
The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons.
It is plain that the editors of our Confession deliberately altered the words that suggest that there are more than two offices and substituted for them words which plainly and emphatically teach that there are only two, bishops or elders and deacons.
A similar alteration appears in the paragraph about “the way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person” to office in the church. The 1689 reads exactly the same except for the words italicized below:
9 The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of pastor, teacher, or elder in a church …
Again the 1689 changes “pastor, teacher, or elder” to “bishop or elder”.
In paragraph 11 of the 1689 another significant alteration takes place. The almost identical paragraph of the Savoy Platform reads as follows:
Although it be incumbent on the pastors and teachers, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.
Again the 1689 altered “pastors and teachers” to “bishops or pastors”.
These patent alterations in the Savoy platform are very significant. Poh Boon Sing’s attempts to explain them in light of the differing historical situations in which the two Confessions were written do not carry weight since the Particular Baptists in 1689 and the Independents in 1658 faced very similar situations. The true reason for these changes appears plainly to be that the editors of our Confession did not wish to confess the four office view of the church taught by the Savoy or its distinction between the office of elder and pastor.
It must be remembered that there were other influences bearing upon the minds of the original signers of our Confession. Among them was the language and thinking of the First London Confession of 1644. In contradistinction to the Savoy, but in perfect unison with the 1689 that Confession teaches very plainly the two office view of the church with no distinction visible between elders and ministers (paragraphs 36-38).
There is also evidence that the 1689 desired to take an intermediate position between the congregationalism of the 1644 and the remaining clericalism of the Savoy in its pastor/elder distinction. Hence, though the Savoy restricted the administration of the sacraments to the “minister of the Word lawfully called” (Savoy, Chapter 28:4), and the 1644 permitted any disciple to baptize, yet the 1689 marks out what appears to be intended as a less definitive and an intermediate position by saying, “These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ” (1689, 28:2).
Before we conclude this discussion of the relation of the Savoy
Platform of Church Polity and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, it is important to point out an interesting document which sheds further light upon the views and intentions of the signers of the 1689 Baptist Confession. Benjamin Keach was one of the original signers of the 1689 Baptist Confession. In 1697 he authored a little book entitled, The Glory of a True Church, And Its Discipline Displayed. While we may not assume that Keach’s views were unanimously or slavishly followed by other Particular Baptists of the day, it is still of great interest for the present discussion to note that Keach plainly contradicts Poh’s interpretation of the Confession at several points. First, Keach clearly equates the office of pastor and the office of elder. Here is one of his opening statements:
A church thus constituted ought forthwith to choose them a pastor, elder or elders, and deacons, (we reading of no other officers or offices abiding in the church) …. Moreover, they are to take special care, that both bishops , overseers, or elders, as well as deacons, have some competent manner all those qualifications; and after in a day of solemn prayer and fasting, that they have elected them, (whether pastor, etc. or deacons) and accepting the office, must be ordained with prayer, and laying on of the hands of the eldership; being first proved, and found meet and fit persons for so sacred an office: Therefore such are very disorderly churches who have no pastor or pastors ordained, they acting not according to the rule of the gospel, having something wanting.
After this introductory statement, Keach discusses in order only two offices. The first section is entitled, Of the work of a Pastor, Bishop, or Overseer. The second is entitled, The Office and Work of Deacons. Clearly, Keach makes no distinction between pastors, bishops, and elders.
This conclusion is made even more certain by the second point of relevance in Keach for our present discussion. Keach denies that there is any office of ruling elder as distinct from pastor in the church today.
Query, Are there no ruling elders besides the pastor?
Answer. There might be such in the primitive apostolical church, but we see no ground to believe it an abiding office to continue in the church, but was only temporary.
1. Because we have none of the qualifications of such elders mentioned, or how to be chosen.
2. Because we read not particularly what their work and business is, or how distinct from preaching elders; though we see not but the church may (if she sees meet) choose some able and discreet brethren to be helps in government; We have the qualifications of bishops and deacons laid down, but of no other office or officers in the church, but these only.
The contrast between Poh and Keach could not be more pointed. Poh argues for the validity of ruling elders. Keach denies that any such office (as distinct from the office of preaching elder) exists in the church today. Keach’s view also plainly contrasts with that of John Owen. This fact shows that important Particular Baptists like Keach did not see themselves as adopting Owen’s church polity without alteration in the 1689 Confession.
A third matter relevant to the interpretation of the 1689 Confession emerges from a study of Keach’s little book. As I pointed out above, I argued in A Modern Exposition … that one plausible interpretation of 26:10’s discussion of the support of pastors was that the Confession might be assuming that all pastor-elder-bishops should be supported. This appears to have been the view of Keach. In the quotation given above from page 9 of his book he appears to recognize only preaching elders. Furthermore, in a section entitled, Of the Duty of Church Members to their Pastor, Keach points out eight duties of church members to the one he also describes in this section as “pastor or elder” [p. 8]. The sixth one deals with their financial support.
It is their duty to provide a comfortable maintenance for them and their families, suitable to their state and condition… ministers are not to ask for their bread, but to receive it honourably.
It would appear that at least Keach’s interpretation of 26:10 of the 1689 Baptist Confession was that all pastors should be supported by the church.
It is, of course, not certain whether other Particular Baptists understood 26:10 or the eldership in exactly the way Keach did. It is also very unlikely that Keach’s view that all pastors should be supported can be maintained in the light of Scripture. It is possible that there are other weaknesses in Keach’s view of the eldership. A reading of his little book gives the impression that he was weak on the Bible’s teaching that normally the government of the local church rests in the hands of a plurality of elders in each local church. However all this may be, it is abundantly clear that Keach rejected anything like a distinction between pastors and elders in the church.
We may conclude this brief discussion of the pastor/elder distinction by summarizing the results of this examination of the teaching of the 1689 Baptist Confession with regard to the pastor/elder distinction which Poh thinks is so crystal clear within it. We have seen, first, that the most natural reading of the Confession itself clearly supports the view which equates pastors and elders. We have seen, second, that at points crucial to the pastor/elder distinction alterations which reject it are introduced into the language of the Savoy Platform in the 1689 Confession. We have seen, third, that Benjamin Keach one of the signers of the 1689 Confession and one of the most influential Particular Baptists of the era clearly and explicitly rejects the pastor/elder distinction and supports the idea that at just this point Particular Baptists felt free to modify the teaching of Owen and the Independents. It may be that we cannot quite conclude by saying that the Confession is “crystal clear” in its rejection of the pastor/elder distinction. Yet we can say that no fair-minded assessment of the evidence here presented will have much doubt about which side should be citing the Confession in their favor in the present debate. Indeed, I suspect that most readers will feel that the evidence justifies the assertion that the Confession is crystal clear in equating pastors and elders.