ARBCA Needs a Calvin

Calvin 3

John Calvin is renowned for his inflexible stance against the errors of Rome, the “Spirituals”, and others whose teachings compromised the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately many do not realize that while he so staunchly stood against errors from those who oppose the gospel, he also worked tremendously hard to establish and maintain peace and unity among the Reformed.  He was a brilliant example of the peacemaker of Matt. 5:9.

For instance, a Synod was held at Berne in 1537 in order to establish unity among the German and Swiss Reformed churches concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Zurich, Basel, Strasburg, Geneva, and Berne each sent representatives.  Bucer, the Strasburg Reformer, had always been sympathetic to Luther’s view. He had been in attendance at one of Luther’s first public disputations and had held him in the highest esteem ever since.  Megander, originally from Zurich, now representing Berne, was determined not to compromise Zwingle’s position in any way.  Dissension prevailed until Calvin came forward.  By recognizing the Biblical truth that each side was determined to uphold, he was able to set forth the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in a manner which upheld the true sentiments of each side without compromising with error.

Bucer had “pointed out that Zwingli and Luther had set out from two different points of view; Zwingli striving to keep as far away as possible from the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, and Luther endeavoring to maintain that there is nevertheless some kind of real presence in the bread.”[i]

Calvin was able, with this in mind, to formulate a doctrinal statement that did justice to the Biblical concerns of both parties without compromising Biblical truth.  In summary he said, “The Spirit is the means by which we are partakers of Christ. That Spirit nourishes us with the flesh and the blood of the Lord, and thus quickens us for immortality. Christ offers this communion under the symbols of bread and wine to all those who celebrate the supper aright and in accordance with his institution.”[ii]

To this Bucer replied “I embrace as orthodox, this view of our excellent brothers Calvin, Farel, and Viret. I never held that Christ was locally present in the holy supper. He has a real finite body, and that body remains in the celestial glory. But in raising us by faith to heaven, the bread which we eat and the cup which we drink are for us the communication of his body and his blood.”[iii]

Thus, these eminent reformers established peace with one another in regard to this vital doctrine.  They were not content to simply have each side adhere to a confessional statement that propounded the particular truths they esteemed most important.  They strove to establish peace, unity and agreement.  The Lord greatly blessed such efforts for the betterment of His church universal and the glory of His name.

Of course, the doctrine under dispute in ARBCA today is not the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but rather, the understanding of the phrase “without passions” in Chapter 2, Paragraph 1 of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.  This is, of course an oversimplification, but we could fairly accurately describe the dispute like this.  On the one side are those whose primary concern is to uphold the unchangeable character of God.  They hold to what we could call the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions”, which was undoubtedly the understanding of that phrase by those who authored our confession.  (I happen to agree with this side, in my understanding of the issue.) On the other side of the controversy are those who fear that this classical understanding of these words is prone to give the impression that God is cold,  distant, or mechanical.  They do not reject the phrase “without passions” but define it somewhat differently than the authors of the confession did.[iv]  They rightly point to men like Warfield and Hodge as examples of how they understand the phrase.

The Heart of the Issue?

It seems to me that what lies at the heart of this issue is our understanding of the fact that man, as he is an image bearer of God, is endowed with the faculties of mind, will and emotions.  Those who are defending the traditional understanding of “without passions” are almost exclusively focusing on what man’s emotions do not reveal about God.  Affections in man arise from the affects of things outside of himself.  God, existing outside of time, cannot be affected by anything outside of Himself, therefore He has no affections.  (And other similar, sound arguments)  Those who are advocating a modified view of the phrase in question do not do so in an effort to make God more like man, but rather, in an effort to do justice to the role of the emotions of man in his image-bearing capacity.

I am a great distance from the inner workings of ARBCA and have no direct knowledge of the exact means by which they plan to deal with this issue.  But it seems possible, if not likely, that something like this will happen:  A position paper will be published that simply states the traditional understanding of the phrase “without passions” and demonstrates that the authors of the confession had this in mind when they penned the words.  This paper will be voted on  and approved.  Any church that has an issue with this understanding will no longer be welcome in ARBCA.  Thus unity of doctrine will be firmly established among the remaining churches.  I think it would be a great shame if this is what actually takes place.

ARBCA Needs a Calvin

I am not saying that a position paper defending the traditional understanding of the phrase in question should not be drawn up, it should.  But it should do more.  As Calvin recognized and dealt with the concerns of both sides of the issue at Berne, so those who seek to defend the traditional understanding of  “without passions” should go out of their way to recognize and address the legitimate concerns expressed by the other side.  A careful doctrinal statement should be drawn up that not only demonstrates what the Bible teaches about God that prevents us from rightly ascribing affections to Him, but also palpably demonstrates the manner in which the emotions of man actually do reflect something of the character of God.  It must be demonstrated that justice can be done to the anthropopathisms of Scripture without resorting to any sort of modified theism.  If we really want unity in the sense that the great Reformers sought it, we must go out of our way to rightly address the issues on both sides.

We must recognize the real issue that brings about concern regarding the manner in which Divine impassibility is often taught.  For example, after listening to a sermon or lecture that clearly demonstrates that affections cannot be rightly attributed to God, a child of God may walk away saying to himself, “OK, so God is love, but He has no affection for me.”  This is hardly a comforting thought.  But if we understand that even though the love of God toward us is not an affection, in that this love is not brought about by any affect we have had on God, as a Divine perfection, it is something far greater than any affection of love we have ever experienced.  We also must be clear that the emotion of love that God endowed men with is actually in some sense revelatory of what God’s love is like.  It is a reflection of what the Divine perfection of love is, a dim and imperfect reflection, but a reflection none the less.

When one demonstrates that the emotion of anger cannot rightly be attributed to God, but merely expresses His determination to rightly meet out justice against all sin, the impression that may easily be given is that this is something quite cold and mechanical.  The problem with this is that when God speaks of His anger, He means to convey a truth that is easily lost in this definition.   God’s “hot displeasure” that will manifest itself in the eternal flames of hell is anything but cold!  The human emotion of anger is truly meant to give us some insight into the nature of God’s eternal, unchangeable disposition toward sin.

Surely we are correct to insist that it is beyond the bounds of propriety to speak of God experiencing the sensation of delight.  But we ought also to admit that the emotion of delight that men experience is in some real sense revelatory of what the eternal disposition of the Father toward the Son is like.  In this way we not only guard against the idea that God can be affected by something outside of Himself, but we also guard against the idea that this makes Him cold and mechanical.

We ought also to go beyond the Scriptural anthropopathisms that are easier to explain, such as God repenting or relenting.  We need to deal with passages such as the command “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” in such a way that God is not left just telling us not to do something that we are entirely unable to do.  Perhaps one could demonstrate that the feeling of grief a parent has when he is sinned against by a child he loves gives us some insight into God’s eternal and unchangeable disposition toward the remaining sin in His redeemed people.

We need to be as earnest to establish unity among Reformed Baptists as the Reformers were to establish unity among their churches.  I am not certain that this can ever be achieved in this area, but I am certain that we can strive for it more earnestly than we have thus far.  May the spirit of love and peace that was so manifest in Calvin and his fellow Reformers be manifest in us today.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

 

[i] Merle d’Aubigne, J. H. History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin The AGES Digital Library, Vol. 6, Book 11, p. 271

[ii] Ibid. p. 273

[iii] Ibid p. 273

[iv] For example, as one proponent of the modified view in this debate has explained:  “We take no exception to the 1689 LBCF in 2:1. We confess that God is without body, parts, or passions.  We believe in divine impassibility. God has no internal (ad intra) fluctuation, passions, or changes in his nature of any sort. We believe that his divine affections are perfectly infinite and immutable (thus, they are also impassible). Our understanding of ‘divine emotivity’ resides in his external (ad extra) interactions with his world via the very covenant condescension described in the 1689 LBCF 7:1.”

 

Biblical Principles Concerning Dating/Courtship

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I clearly recall a thread I followed a number of years ago on a Reformed Baptist discussion board.  Someone posed a question to the group about whether or not there was anything he should do with regard to something he knew a female friend was planning.  She was going to elope with her boyfriend without letting her parents know.  This was a professing Christian young woman and he was concerned as to whether he should try to stop her, warn her parents, or something else.  What I remember the most was the comment made by someone that made my jaw drop.  He said something to the effect of:  “She’s over 18, so she can make her own decisions and her parent’s knowledge or blessing is irrelevant.”  I was dumbfounded that a mature Christian who taught at a well known seminary could make such a statement.  Where in the Bible do we find any such notion?  Where in Scripture do we find the idea that a woman leaves the protective care and authority of her father for any other reason than being given to a husband?  I bring this up, not simply because it is shocking, but because it reveals just how much Christians can unwittingly imbibe from culture without realizing how unscriptural it may be.

I promised a follow up to my last post about dating/courtship in which I would flesh out some of the scriptural principles I believe must guide us through the difficult waters of courtship and dating in our day.  As I stated from the beginning, I do not claim to have all the answers.  I do not have a new scheme that will solve all our problems and ensure that our children will all end up with great marriages and live lives free from heartache.  I will, however, lay out the principles I think we need to keep in mind regarding the issue, and discuss how I am attempting to navigate these waters with my children in light of them.

It is not good that man should be alone

Gen. 2:18

At the completion of each day of creation God declared that it was good.  It is not until verse 18 of chapter 2 that He describes something as not good.  It was not good that man should be alone.  God did not create man to live a solitary existence, he created a helper comparable to him.  Even before falling into sin it was not good for man to be alone, how much more so today.  If unfallen man needed a helper, how much more does fallen man?  When Christian singles find themselves yearning for a godly spouse, it is a good thing which they desire.

We need to recognize this as a fact and live in light of it.  We ought to direct our children to actively seek the Lord’s aid in finding a spouse.  We should help them in any way we can.  We should teach them early on, by scripture and by example, what kind of a spouse they should seek.  We should also teach them what kind of a spouse they need to become, and help them to develop the character and attitudes that the Lord requires of them.  We should pray with them and for them as they go about this difficult task.  We need to teach our sons that they need a helper and teach our daughters that the Lord has a man who needs their help.

This being said, we must also teach them that no spouse will ever fulfill their desires.  No spouse can ever fulfill all their needs.  Only Christ can do that.  They must seek Christ above all else.  They must be fully satisfied in Him and Him alone.  Disappointment , discontentment and frustration will be the inevitable outcome of a failure to understand this.  Whatever spouse God provides for them will be a sinner, and they will experience first-hand how difficult life yoked to a sinful man or woman can be.  Yes, a godly spouse will be an incredible blessing to them, but if they ever expect to gain from that person what they can truly find in God alone, the results will be devastating.

What about Celibacy?

The Bible does teach that the Lord sovereignly chooses to grant the gift of celibacy to some.  We ought to teach our children this as well, but we need to recognize that this is the exception and not the rule.  God may indeed reveal that one of our children is never going to marry, and His grace is sufficient to sustain them if this is the case.  But how do we know?  There are indeed many factors to take into account that I will not take the time to attempt to lay out.  I do have a simple litmus test that can help though.  It is a fact that ought to be recognized by all, that men and women typically struggle with lust in different ways.  Men struggle with the lust of looking upon women, and women struggle with the lust of desiring to be looked at.  If a young woman or man has not attained an unusual ability to mortify these particular lusts, I think it is a very strong sign that the Lord has not given them the gift of celibacy.  I can’t proclaim this as dogma, but it seems like sound reasoning to me.

Make No Provision for the Flesh

Romans 13:14

God commands all Christians to “flee youthful lusts”(2 Tim. 2:22).  The very description of these lusts as “youthful” makes it clear that they are particularly strong in young people, even though they do not disappear with age and must be mortified by all.  Notice the verb as well.  We are to flee from these lusts.  We are not to toy with them, let alone indulge them.  We find a parallel admonition in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality.”  Again, the verb denotes the urgency.  We are to flee from youthful lusts and sexual immorality as if they were a battalion of armed men or a bear robbed of her cubs!  We are never to see how close we can come without stepping over the line.  We are never to indulge in “just a little”.  Parents must instill this in their children early on and repeatedly admonish them, for this is as exceedingly deceitful a sin as any.

This is why it is so important that young people be careful to make no provision for the flesh.  They ought not to be placing themselves in positions in which it would be easy for them to give in to carnal lusts.  Spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex in private ought to be avoided like the plague.  A young woman should not be comfortable in such a situation, for she is indeed in great danger, whether she realizes it or not.  Every man has lust within him.  A Christian man is indeed striving to mortify that lust, but a woman has no way of looking into his heart to observe how successful he is.  I am well aware that there are examples of Christian men and women who spent time alone in private and did not give in to such lusts.  But there are myriads of examples of those who attempted to do so and failed miserably with dire results.  We should never presume upon the grace of God when He has so clearly admonished us to make no provision for the flesh.

I once had a former youth pastor tell me about how devastated he was to find out that the majority of girls in his youth group were taking birth control pills.  This was in a conservative PCA church!  What were their parents thinking?  While the fear of getting a girl pregnant is far from the main reason a man should flee fornication, it is indeed an obstacle that should not be removed.

I do not mean to say that an unmarried couple should never have private conversation.  There are plenty of ways to be in private in one sense while still being in public in another sense.  Dinner in a restaurant, being in a room alone while the door is open and others are in the house etc.  But a single man living alone ought not to have a girl over for dinner without others present.  I’m sure this seems restrictive and legalistic to many, but the Biblical admonitions I’ve cited, as well as many others throughout the word of God make this very wise counsel.

Guard Your Heart

Prov. 4:23

While most will recognize that what I propose looks more like what is commonly known as courtship than dating, it is not dating per se that I have the biggest problem with.  It is recreational dating.  What I mean by recreational dating is a man and woman entering into a romantic relationship simply to enjoy the romance, with no commitment to each other except that they will continue as long as the relationship gives them pleasure.  The Bible is perfectly clear that physical intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and that fornication, which I do not believe is confined to intercourse, is sin.  But what is marriage?  Is it merely a commitment to an exclusive physical relationship?  Of course not.  Marriage is a commitment of the heart as well as the body.  A man or woman can commit adultery in many ways without ever committing the physical act.  How devastating it would be for one to hear his/her spouse say “I love you” to someone else!  It is my sincerest conviction that just as singles must be diligent to reserve their bodies for marriage they must also seek to reserve their hearts.  This is why I oppose the practice that leads, multiple times in some cases, to “falling in love” with someone with no intention of ever marrying them.

I recognize that this idea will meet strong opposition from many quarters.  I also realize that it will be far more difficult to work this out practically than it is to avoid fornication.  And I’m not saying that a couple should attempt to somehow not fall in love until after the marriage ceremony.  Hopefully setting forth some practical advice will help to clarify what I’m talking about.

A young man or woman should never date someone that they would never marry.  The idea that it would be fun to date someone even though they have some character flaws or something else that makes them unsuitable as a possible spouse is unwise to say the least.  A romance that cannot rightly end in marriage will end in heartache.

A young man ought to be careful not to lead a girl on.  He may at first desire to get to know a young woman better because he recognizes her Christian character and finds her attractive.  He may spend time with her in small groups etc.  A mutual attraction ( and I mean that in a wholesome way) may begin to become obvious.  In such cases a girl’s heart is very vulnerable.  He should be careful to keep from giving her the impression that she means more to him than she actually does, and if it becomes clear to him that he does not see her as a potential spouse he should make it known in a gracious manner.

A young woman needs to guard her heart.  As my wife said to me recently, a girl can fall in love with a guy on the first date.  She needs to be diligent not to allow herself to do so.  She needs to keep a close watch over her affections and be careful not to hand her heart to someone just because he has taken notice of her, even if he is a fine Christian man.  I know this is easier said than done, but if she is successful, she will indeed save herself from much potential heartache.

I do believe there may be a good degree of affection of the heart between a couple by the time they are prepared to pursue marriage, and that it will grow stronger and stronger as their wedding day approaches.  But they must both be diligent to practice restraint before there is any sort of commitment involved.

The Role of Fathers

1 Cor. 7, Prov. 7, Num. 30

The biblical role of a father is a great responsibility.  He is not a pope over his family, for a pope is an unbiblical usurper of authority.  He has a delegated authority, under God, to fulfill a multitude of duties for the good of those in his family.  He must provide for them (1 Tim. 5:8).   He must instruct them in godliness (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4).  He must lead by example as he directs his family to live as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The father has a peculiar role in regard to his daughters.  His authority over them extends even to the overruling of vows unto the Lord (Num. 30:1-5).  He has the authority to refuse to give her in marriage if he deems it wise (1 Cor. 7:36-38, Exod. 22:16,17).  But this authority is not for his benefit, but for his daughter’s.  He needs to teach her the dangers of adulterous men just as he is to teach his sons about the dangers of adulterous women (Prov. 7).  He needs to teach her what manner of woman she should strive to become (Prov. 31).  He needs to teach her to be modest and diligent (1 Tim. 2:9-11, Titus 2:5).  He needs to teach her to be sweetly submissive under godly authority (Titus 2:5, Eph. 5:22, 1 Pet. 3:1-6)  He must ensure her safety and guard her reputation to the best of his ability (1 Tim. 5:8, Prov. 22:1, Eccl. 7:1).

A father’s responsibilities toward his daughters a manifold, who is sufficient for such matters?  It is only by God’s grace that any man can begin to fulfill his God given role.  How sad it is to observe how much of this responsibility is neglected in our day.  Every time I see an immodestly dressed young woman from a Christian family I ask myself “What is her father thinking?”  Take responsibility, man!  Guard your daughter’s good name and virtue, please.  She needs you.

This is why, if a young man asks my daughter to go out on a date with him, she will direct him to speak with me.  (Unless she has no interest, she is free and perfectly capable of saying “no” without my assistance.)  Since I take my responsibilities seriously, I need to know what kind of man he is and what his intentions are.  If he’s looking for a romance without commitment, he’s looking for “love” in the wrong place.  However, if he makes every appearance of being a sound Christian who would like to get to know my daughter better, I will give him permission within certain parameters and guidelines.  He needs to be willing to remain in the presence of others.  I will suggest that if they go out for dinner or a movie etc. they will need to take along one or more of her siblings, or other godly friends who I know.  He doesn’t, however need to be ready to marry her.  I know that because of our current culture’s ideas, it may seem like the equivalent to asking me for her hand, but I will do my best to set him at ease and treat him with Christian dignity.  I will also make it crystal clear, that if he willfully misuses her, physically or emotionally, he will have to deal with me, and it won’t be pretty.  But as long as he conducts himself in an upright manner, he has nothing to fear.  If he starts to have feelings for my daughter, I will expect him to speak to me about it, but I will do my best to keep this from being anything to be apprehensive about.

My sons must be diligent to mind the authority of the father over any girl they might become interested in.  They will speak to him before any form of dating occurs if that is what her father expects.  I am aware, however, that many fathers would be quite troubled by a young man who has never dated their daughter asking to speak to him first.  They may jump to the conclusion that he is indeed asking for her hand.  Such things need to be worked out with wisdom and care.  In a culture as diverse as ours we cannot demand a cookie cutter solution.  Regardless of her father’s attitude, they must keep all the above principles in mind and take great care not to misuse the young woman’s heart or reputation in any way.

Know Your Children

The Lord has graciously blessed my wife and I with eight wonderful children.  It amazes me how much diversity there is among their individual personalities.  Parents need to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses, propensities and inclinations of each of them if we are to guide them well.  I have one daughter who will be very difficult to woo.  I am really looking forward to meeting the man who can gain her heart, for it is a strong city, fortified by walls.  I have another daughter who I will need to watch much more closely.  Not because of any moral deficiency or lack of virtue, but because she takes after her father and I believe will easily fall in love.  Two of my sons have few female friends and one of them has many more female friends than male friends.  Each of them need to be reminded of their responsibilities with regard to the affairs of the heart and guided or admonished with regard to their own unique personalities.

Compatibility

In my response to Mr. Umstattd’s article, I stressed the fact that when looking for the reason any marriage failed, we cannot come to the conclusion that the couple were simply not compatible.  I also stressed the need to place Christian virtue as the primary trait to look for in a potential spouse.  This may have given some the impression that I think there’s nothing more to the equation.  I apologize if I lead anyone to that conclusion.  There are many factors that need to be considered in the search for a godly spouse. However, I stand by my conviction that one need not date multiple people in order to recognize who it is they are supposed to marry.

I will reiterate that godly character and virtues are paramount.  Young people should be looking for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) in the Christian singles of their acquaintance.  A young man should be looking for a girl who is sweetly submissive to her father, for if she is not, she will not be a submissive wife.  A young man who chafes under authority must be avoided as well.  He is likely to either shirk his proper responsibilities as a husband and father, or show himself to be an abuser of his own authority, either of which will lead to a very unhappy marriage.  Diligence is a virtue to be eagerly sought in a future husband or wife, for both roles require this grace in abundance.  Such virtues are utterly lacking among a large portion of professing Christian young people, which will make the search difficult, but when you indeed recognize these graces in a potential spouse you will know you struck gold.

I must also apologize to any Arminian friends who were insulted by my reference to them in my previous post.  I did not intend to set this doctrinal view on par with the sin of lying, that was not my intent.  I simply wished to convey that a certain degree of doctrinal agreement is absolutely necessary in a Christian marriage.  Of course there must be agreement on the essentials of the faith, that is a given.  But it is also equally true that you will be very unlikely to ever find anyone who agrees with you on every jot and tittle.  I believe it is of utmost importance that there is agreement on many major issues that genuine Christians disagree about.  An Arminian and a Calvinist would end up with much strife, for such doctrines reach into every corner of life.  A Cessationist and a continuationist would also face many difficulties.  Agreement on issues like these, as well as doctrines like the Regulative Principle of worship or credobaptism vs. paedobaptism is important, though possibly not an insurmountable obstacle.  Where would a couple with such differences worship together in unity?  At the very least, the woman must be able to sweetly submit to her husband, and if her convictions are too strong to do this a marriage ought not to be pursued.

While I am unshakably convinced that the above two considerations ought to be foremost in the minds of those searching for a spouse, I am well aware that other things come into consideration as well.  Some personalities just clash, even among genuine Christians with similar doctrinal convictions.  What I want to make clear is that one can recognize such things without recreationally dating multiple people.  Hobbies, interests, personality quirks and the like can all be discovered in a group atmosphere without entering into the dangerous practice of casual dating.

But Where Can We Look?

I conclude with the question that inevitably arises from a commitment to all I have just discussed.  A large number of faithful Christian singles are in small churches in which they are the minority.  They do not have a large pool of Christian singles with whom they are acquainted.   Where are they to find their future spouse?

It is indeed possible that the Lord will bring a future spouse into the congregation to which they are joined, we ought not to rule out this possibility.  But neither should we simply sit back and wait, for that may not be the means of God’s provision.  In my previous post I mentioned Christian conferences.  Building Tomorrow’s Church or a Reformed Baptist singles conference is a great place to meet other singles who share doctrinal convictions and demonstrate godly character.  Other conferences, such as G3 are also excellent, though they are not specifically geared toward singles.  My sons really enjoy these conferences, they are a great blessing in meeting new friends and feeding upon the word of God.  Finding a potential spouse isn’t even the primary reason they attend.  Many Christian couples have met each other while attending a Christian college.  I mentioned the idea of visiting other faithful churches within driving distance.  There may be a doctrinally sound church in your area that has a larger number of Christian singles.  While I insist that leaving a faithful church for the sole purpose of finding a spouse is wrong, I don’t see anything wrong with attending Bible studies that most of these churches have for their singles.  This may be a great idea for a godly young man.  A man with strong doctrinal convictions and virtues would stick out in such an atmosphere and be quite attractive to a spiritually minded young woman who is tired of the shallow Christianity she sees in most professing Christian young men.

It is also difficult to know what to do once you’ve met someone who fits the biblical criteria for a potential spouse, but you don’t know them well enough to conclude that you may want to pursue a relationship with them.  One idea is to plan some sort of activity with friends and invite them along.  You can enjoy the company of friends and get to know them better as well as observing how they interact with others.  This can actually be much more fruitful than asking them out on a date, since you have no romantic expectations or apprehensiveness that comes along with a “first date”.

As I stated from the beginning, I do not have all the answers to the difficult questions regarding dating/courtship.  I do believe I have laid out some vital biblical principles that must be kept in mind as we guide and direct our children in their search for a godly spouse.  It is my intention to leave the comments section open and hope others will provide other ideas that will be of assistance to others as well as myself.  Please refrain from responses like, “Well, my spouse and I did such and such when we dated, and we have a strong marriage.”, if your purpose is to prove that some biblical principle can safely be ignored.  There are happily married couples who followed biblical principles in courtship/dating, just as there are happily married couples who followed none.  My wife and I were unbelievers and our relationship before marriage couldn’t have been much less biblical, but God has graciously given us an incredible marriage.  That does not in any way lead me to believe that it isn’t important that my children take every biblical principle into consideration.  What I’m interested in receiving, are ideas that will help us guide our children in following such principles while searching for a spouse.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

 

A Thoughtful Assessment of “Christian Hedonism”

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In the introduction to his book Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, Dr. John Piper warns his readers, “Beware of conjecture about what lies in the pages of this book!” because “Quick and superficial judgments will almost certainly be wrong.”[i]  I believe I can honestly say that I am safe from any accusation of failing to heed this warning because it has been at least 12 years since I first read the book.  The idea of “Christian Hedonism” as presented in this book has afforded me many hours of thoughtful contemplation as well as instigated numerous lively conversations.  I’ve spent hours upon hours discussing the topic with those who love it as well as with those who find it objectionable.  I just read the book again (much of it twice), and I think I can present a fair, thoughtful and gracious evaluation of “Christian Hedonism” as it is set forth in Desiring God.

 The Good

I want to begin by stating emphatically that this book contains a lot of wonderful doctrine.  Dr. Piper treats the subject of God’s sovereignty in a compelling and God-glorifying fashion.  His explanation of God’s delight in Himself as the highest good is quite commendable.  His love of Scripture comes forth throughout the volume, especially in the chapter specifically about the subject.  The chapter on suffering is fantastic!  There is so much good in this book that it really bothers me that I have to say negative things about it.

I’m not sure who it is who teaches that doing something good to make yourself happy is sinful, or that enjoying God is not a Biblical motive for obedience and worship.  I certainly have never come across this idea anywhere in the Reformed and Puritan tradition to which my reading is generally limited.  But Dr. Piper certainly, without any trace of doubt, demonstrates from Scripture that any such idea is completely unfounded and unbiblical.  If he had simply set out to prove that seeking satisfaction in Christ, enjoying and delighting in God, and actively yearning for comfort in the Almighty are good and Biblical motives for obedience and worship and a necessary element of the Christian life, I think I could have recommended the book.

A Part for the Whole

In the opening of the book Dr. Piper famously alters the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  He changes the answer to the question “What is the chief end of man?” from “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”[ii] to “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”[iii]  In his immediate explanation for this change he makes the comment “Not that I care too much about the intention of seventeenth-century theologians.”[iv]  Perhaps if he had concerned himself more with the intention of the catechism’s authors he would not have been so quick to change their answer.  You see, the Puritans did not begin the catechism with a question regarding the purpose of man’s existence and then move on to something else, leaving it up to us to figure out how to fulfill that purpose.  Please observe with me:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach?
A. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.[v]

You see clearly that they do not change the subject at all. 1. Man exists to glorify and enjoy God.  2.  It is the Bible alone that teaches us how to glorify and enjoy God.  3.  The principle teaching of the Bible instructs us in two areas:  what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.  The remainder of the catechism expounds what it is we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.  So the entirety of  the catechism directs us how we are to glorify and enjoy God.  How do we glorify God?  We glorify God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us.  How do we enjoy God?  We enjoy God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” Ecclesiastes. 12:13

Before anyone objects that it is possible to believe what God says and do what He commands from improper motives that do not glorify God, please realize that the catechism sets forth what form of faith and obedience truly glorify God.  It is made perfectly clear that a mere intellectual acknowledgement of the truth of Scripture is not God glorifying.  A living, active and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that results in a life lived in willing obedience to, and adoration of Him glorifies God.  And no one, upon completion of a study of the catechism, could rightly conclude that begrudging compliance or obedience in order to earn favor with God are in any way fulfilling the duties God requires of us.

This is why so many of those who criticize “Christian Hedonism” accuse it of being reductionistic.  The means by which men are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever are manifold.  All 107 questions have direct reference to man’s chief end.  But Dr. Piper has reduced those multiple means of glorifying God to one, enjoying Him.  While he does not altogether neglect all the other God given means, I believe the exaltation of this one above all others necessarily results in the overlooking of many.

I by no means wish to take away from the fact that God is indeed glorified by our enjoyment of Him.  In fact I would argue heartily that the statement  “A chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” is a thoroughly Biblical statement.  If only he had changed two words instead of one….

The Means to the End

Dr. Piper is absolutely correct in his insistence that we must delight in God.  He must be our treasure, our all in all.  We need nothing but Him.  We must seek all satisfaction and comfort in Him.  We must desire God.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.  It is also taught throughout the Reformed and Puritan tradition, as can be seen in the WSC and Heidelberg Catechism.  I heartily agree with him.  My problem arises with regard to the means he insists upon to achieve this end.

How, we may ask, are we to accomplish the goal of enjoying God?  The thrust of the book as a whole seems to answer: “by determining that my primary reason for all that I do must be an active, conscious desire to find pleasure, satisfaction and comfort in God.”  That really lies at the heart of “Christian Hedonism”.  We are to live our lives with the primary goal of finding joy, satisfaction and comfort, but with the necessary qualification that this joy, satisfaction and comfort is to be found in God Himself, not merely in the gifts He bestows.

I have two major objections to this necessity of making the desire for pleasure in God the primary motivation for everything in the Christian life.  First of all, while I agree with Dr. Piper, and the WSC that enjoyment in God is a good an proper motive for worship and obedience, I also recognize that in some aspects of the Christian life and in some situations that we as Christians find ourselves, it would not in any way be necessary to insist that a desire for pleasure in God should be our primary motivation.

Perhaps the clearest example from the Bible is found in Genesis 22:1-19.  God commands Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  We are not privy to all of Abraham’s thought processes as he contemplated this difficult command, but Hebrews 11 sheds light on the matter.  Now for the sake of illustration, imagine the scene with me and contemplate how Abraham might have answered Isaac if, once tied to the altar, he asked his father “Dad, what are you doing?”

I think we can imagine, with Biblical insight, that with tears running down his cheeks, he might answer something like this:  “Son, the Lord our God has commanded me to offer you up as a sacrifice unto Himself.  You know I cannot do otherwise than what He commands.  But listen, Son, you need not fear, only trust Him.  You see, He who cannot lie has made me many promises that he will accomplish specifically through you.  He will not fail to make good on His promises, so I conclude that He must be intending to raise you from the dead.”  We recognize in this story that Abraham glorified God by the means that the WSC prescribes, by believing what God says and by doing what He commands, even in the most trying of circumstances.

Now attempt to imagine Abraham’s answer if he had been a Christian Hedonist.  “Son, you know that I am a Christian Hedonist and seeking and finding happiness in God is the primary motivation for all that I do.  Now God has commanded me to kill you, so my path to happiness requires that I do so…”  Even with the further explanation of trusting that God would raise him from the dead, do you see the ridiculousness of the answer?  It would be just as silly for Abraham to make such arguments to his own heart as it would be to pose such an explanation to his son.

Please remember, I am not saying that seeking satisfaction and happiness in God is not a legitimate motivation for worship and obedience!  I am saying that we ought not to insist that it should always be our primary motive, because, quite frankly, there are situations in the Christian life in which it ought not be.  I am also aware that we could go through some sort of mental algebra to show that at some level, satisfaction in God is still a motivating factor in such circumstances.  My point is that it doesn’t need to be, and often shouldn’t be our primary motivation for what we do, and that doesn’t mean that we aren’t therefore glorifying God as we should.

When I need to discipline my children, what is my motivation?  Is the fact that I love them and know that chastising them for disobedience is the best thing for their souls an allowable motive?  (I am one that can honestly say that it often does hurt me more than it hurts them.)  Is the fact that I have been commanded to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord enough?  Is Proverbs 23:14, “You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” a good enough motive?  Is the best way to glorify God in the chastising of my children really to go through whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to spank them in order that I may find pleasure in God?  Again, I know that at some level that is somehow in play, but to insist that it be foremost in my mind is in my opinion completely unnecessary.

Dr. Piper does not believe his teaching is at odds with the WSC, and he even states of the Heidelberg Catechism “The fact is, the entire catechism is structured the way Christian Hedonism would structure it.”  But it is at this point that he is quite wrong.  When answering the question, “How are we to enjoy God”, both catechisms could be accurately summarized with the words of the hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in  Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  Neither catechism has any notion that it is necessary to actively seek happiness and satisfaction in God as the primary motive for all we do in order to accomplish the goal of glorifying and enjoying Him.

The Delight of Duty

My second objection to this aspect of “Christian Hedonism” is the seeming failure to recognize duty as a legitimate and necessary means of both glorifying God and enjoying Him. Much effort is set forth in this book to warn against the danger of performing duties for the wrong reasons.  Very little is spent in admonishment against the neglect of duties (the one notable exception being the duty to delight in God, of course).  Nearly every time the term duty comes up it is in a negative light.

Again, seeking pleasure in God is a legitimate motive for obedience.  The Bible presents us with a multitude of legitimate motives to obey God: love, gratitude, fear, as a response to mercy, in awe of God’s holiness, in order to fulfill the purpose of displaying God’s image aright, to name a few.  But in Dr. Piper’s zeal to extol this motive, I fear an important truth may be obscured.  We owe to God perfect, perpetual, willing obedience for the simple reason that He is God.  If God tells me to do something, and I require any other reason than the mere fact that it is God who gave the command, it is sin and provocation on my part.  God graciously gives us a multitude of further motives, but if the fact that God commanded it isn’t enough, we have an immense spiritual problem. A sad fact is that I have run into far too many “Christian  Hedonists” who actually think that obeying God simply because He’s God is wrong.  I wish Dr. Piper had been half as concerned about the tendency of fallen men to fail to recognize and fulfill their duties as he was to make sure they don’t perform their duty for the wrong reasons.

But here is the fact that Dr. Piper seems to miss.  If we recognize our duty toward God and determine to fulfill it, if we willfully obey God’s commandments for any or all of the Biblical motives, the result is satisfaction in God.  We do not need to make that satisfaction the primary reason for obedience.  I believe every true Christian has felt the satisfaction that comes from obeying God simply because He is God.  Not satisfaction in a job well done, NO!  Satisfaction in God Himself:  the satisfaction promised in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

I guess my point is two-fold.  1.  Heartfelt, willful obedience results in happiness in Christ, whether we make that happiness the reason we obey or not.  2.  Failure to obey results in a loss of happiness in Christ, even if we are attempting to make happiness in Christ the primary motive for everything we do.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  Christian Hedonism rightly emphasizes the duty of delight, but woefully neglects the delight of duty.

Equivocation

The most frustrating aspect of the book when I first read it was what I will here refer to as equivocation.  You see, Dr. Piper seems to  have two distinct definitions for Christian Hedonism that he uses interchangeably without seeming to notice.  He begins with what I will refer to as definition #1.  Here a Christian Hedonist is someone who willfully determines to make the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction in God their chief motive for  life.  An example of the use of the term by def. #1 is “Then I was converted to Christian Hedonism. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”[vi]  The definition I will refer to as def. #2 is anyone who recognizes God as their greatest good and actively seeks pleasure and satisfaction in Him.  This definition is clearly in view in chapter 2 for instance which he entitled “Conversion, the Creation of a Christian Hedonist.”  When he speaks of his becoming a Christian Hedonist he does not seem to be speaking of his original experience of being savingly joined to Christ by faith.  But in his chapter on conversion, he points to the fact that in every true conversion there is a fervent seeking after God as our greatest good and declares it the creation of a Christian Hedonist.

As far as these definitions go, I would say that in the case of the first, the term is an accurate description of the philosophy, but the philosophy is unbiblical at points.  In the case of definition #2 the term Christian Hedonism is not a very good description, but at least the philosophy it describes is Biblical.  If a hedonist is someone who’s primary motivation is to find pleasure, then a Christian Hedonist would be a good description for someone who makes the pursuit of pleasure his primary motivation, but seeks that pleasure in God alone. But someone who delights in God, and recognizes that seeking pleasure and satisfaction in God is a Biblical motive is not therefore rightly called hedonistic, but does have a clear Biblical foundation for that way of life.

The problem is that in chapter after chapter Dr. Piper provides solid Biblical evidence for the definition #2 Christian Hedonist, but continues to press us to become definition #1 Christian Hedonists, for which I see no Biblical support.

False Dichotomies

Another frustrating aspect of the book is Dr. Piper’s repeated use of false dichotomies.  He makes his argument for Christian Hedonism, and then defends it with an argument that assumes there are only two possibilities, and Christian Hedonism is the right one.

Consider this example:

Someone might object that in making the joy of worship an end in itself, we make God a means to our end rather than our being a means to His end. Thus, we seem to elevate ourselves above God. But consider this question: Which glorifies God more—that is, which reflects back to God more clearly the greatness of His glory—(1) a worship experience that comes to climax with joy in the wonder of God? Or (2) an experience that comes to climax in a noble attempt to free itself from rapture in order to make a contribution to the goal of God?

This is a subtle thing. We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.[vii]

First notice the false dichotomy:  either our worship culminates in climax of joy and wonder in God because we made joy in Him our end, or we seek to worship God with a strange desire to avoid satisfaction in Him.  From where does the idea come that the only alternative to worshiping for the purpose of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is to worship with the motive of not finding satisfaction?  This is a non sequitur.  But I find the final statement here to be the most difficult.  “We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.”  If we come to worship our Savior simply because He is worthy of worship, with no conscious motivation of seeking joy in Him, we are not worshiping Him, but rather striving against His all-sufficient glory?  This is a troubling statement indeed.

I believe this passage, along with his statement in the introduction are very problematic.  There he said, “In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”  (I understand how he could argue for the truthfulness of this statement.  If all men always seek happiness, then to worship God while not seeking happiness in Him would necessitate the seeking of happiness in something else instead.  But please read the statement again and consider the following.)  There are countless motivations to worship the living God!  Countless Biblical motivations:  love, gratitude, fear, reverence, an irresistible response to even a glimpse of His magnificence, holiness or glory…  Yet he can boldly proclaim without qualification “it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”  These kinds of statements are unhelpful to say the least.

Another example occurs at the beginning of chapter 4, Love, the Labor of Christian Hedonism, where he states “the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or, to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.”  Do you see the false dichotomy?  Either the pursuit of pleasure is your motive, or you aim to abandon the pursuit of pleasure.  Let me present another example from the Christian life where the pursuit of pleasure will not be the prime motivating factor, but love is.  You find that a dear brother in Christ has fallen into serious sin.  Your heart breaks as you recognize the destructive influence the sin is having upon him and you fear for the salvation of his eternal soul.  You determine that you must confront him, in love and mercy and grace, but you must confront him.  Your heart churns and aches, but your love for this dear friend constrains you to admonish him with all the grace and courage that you can prayerfully muster.  Are you failing to love your brother and please God because the motive of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is not your conscious motivation for your actions?  Of course not.  We could, again, go through the mental gymnastics necessary to find the connection that proves that at some point there is some aspect of our motivation that is indeed the pursuit of happiness, but is that in anyway helpful in this duty?  Do I really need to rebuke my brother for the purpose of securing my own happiness?  Again, I think this is just silly.

Consider another statement , this one from the epilogue, and test it in reference to the situation with the need to confront a brother in sin.  “The pursuit of joy through mercy is what makes love real.”[viii]  Is my love for my brother not real because I am not rebuking him in order to obtain joy through mercy?  Of course I do go to my brother in the hope that he will repent and receive mercy!  But that is not the same thing as insisting that my purpose for rebuking him must be the pursuit of joy.

Emotion in Place

The final feature of Christian Hedonism that we need to address is the great emphasis that it places on the emotional aspect of man.  Perhaps the most widely known words of this book are found in the popular slogan “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him”.[ix] This idea sounds wonderfully spiritual, and I would agree that it expresses a truth, but it is my concern that it places undue emphasis on our emotions.

This slogan is tailor made for the conference Christianity that has embraced it.  Thousands of zealous Calvinists gather together and worship the Living God through the faithful expositional preaching of the word of God.  To those who embrace this slogan, this must be the very essence of glorifying God.  Such worship is truly spiritually exhilarating, a mountaintop  experience to which little can compare.  I have nothing against such conferences, I see them as mighty evidence of the work of God.  The problem is that our emotional makeup does not allow us to remain on the mountaintop.  When our emotions inevitably enter a valley, the Christian Hedonist response is to put all effort into getting back to the mountaintop, for it is only there that God is rightly glorified.

Consider one of the attendees on the Thursday following an incredibly blessed T4G.  The adversary has taken full advantage of the emotional low he knew would come.   The demands of his vocation are pressed to unusual heights, his wife misunderstood something he said and is hurt and angry, his teenage daughter is giving him attitude and his toddler is sick.  He is informed that a good friend from church has said hurtful things about him and he finds out that the person whose salvation he has been earnestly seeking has  hardened himself to the gospel and is hanging out at strip joints.  How ought this man go about striving to glorify God in such a situation, when outward circumstances oppress and tyrannize him?  Is yearning for the mountaintop and praying earnestly to return to it really the best way to seek to glorify God now?  Is it not patently obvious that the means by which he should strive to glorify God are the means laid out in the catechism?  The best way to seek the glory of God is to determine to remain faithful regardless of outward circumstances and emotional turmoil.  A constant determination to live a life of principled obedience, to conquer every temptation toward unbelief and remain lovingly obedient whether he feels like it or not.  Just as Abraham glorified God in the most trying of circumstances so must he, by trusting and obeying his Lord and Savior.

I do not think we can overemphasize the danger of placing such importance upon emotions that all other faculties of the soul become subservient to them in the effort to reach the goal of pleasure, even if we are determined to find that pleasure in God alone.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)  When Dr. Piper writes “It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor Him:”[x], it is as if he were blissfully unaware that one can just as easily seek to find joy in God and end up delighting in something else without realizing it.  A quick glimpse at the charismatic movement makes this abundantly clear.

John Owen discusses the role of the mind in governing the other faculties of the soul in this way:

The ground of this efficacy of sin by deceit is taken from the faculty of the soul affected with it. Deceit properly affects the mind; it is the mind that is deceived. When sin attempts any other way of entrance into the soul, as by the affections, the mind, retaining its right and sovereignty, is able to give check and control unto it. But where the mind is tainted, the prevalency must be great; for the mind or understanding is the leading faculty of the soul, and what that fixes on, the will and affections rush after, being capable of no consideration but what that presents unto them. Hence it is, that though the entanglement of the affections unto sin be ofttimes most troublesome, yet the deceit of the mind is always most dangerous, and that because of the place that it possesseth in the soul as unto all its operations. Its office is to guide, direct, choose, and lead; and “if the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness!”[xi] (emphasis mine)

Owen’s view is in stark contrast to Christian Hedonism, for to fully embrace Christian Hedonism is to surrender the mind’s sovereignty to the affections.[xii]

A Christian must be careful to govern his emotions and will by his mind, determining to keep them subservient to the word of God, because he recognizes the natural propensity for his emotions to rule over him.   Christian Hedonism’s simultaneous exaltation of emotion and neglect of objective obedience is an extremely dangerous combination.  It is my sincerest concern that allowing the emotions to reign in such a way will inevitably result in more heartache than satisfaction of soul.

Conclusion

I sincerely hope I have succeeded in my attempt to graciously and thoughtfully assess the book Desiring God and the notion of Christian Hedonism without misrepresenting them in any way.  I assure you that any failure on my part was purely unintentional.  Much of the book is wonderful.  I was quite surprised at how much I benefitted from the chapter on Suffering, considering how much of the book I had disagreed with up until that point, but as I contemplated the matter it became quite obvious why.  The desire and hope for joy and comfort and satisfaction in God that far surpasses our understanding is repeatedly set forth in Scripture as the means of sustaining the Christian in times of suffering.  I hope no one has understood my position to be a denial of the Biblical truth that a significant part of man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever, because I would never deny such a glorious and blessed truth.  I in no way deny that we ought to actively seek pleasure and satisfaction in the Almighty.   I would not even represent my position as accusing Dr. Piper of overemphasizing the duty to delight in God.  How could that ever be overemphasized?

If Dr. Piper had simply set out to defend the importance of enjoying God as a necessary element of the chief end of man, as the Puritans did, this would have been a much better book.  However, his simultaneous insistence upon the need to consciously strive for that enjoyment, along with his neglect of many Biblical means for reaching it, forces me to the conclusion that Christian Hedonism is an unbalanced view of the Christian life and ought not to be followed.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

Let us all seek to glorify God by all Biblical means and let us enjoy Him forever by every Biblical means.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

[i] Desiring God p. 27  (All quotations taken from the free online pdf of the 2003 edition found at: https://dwynrhh6bluza.cloudfront.net/website_uploads/documents/e-books/pdfs/desiring-god-1388566181.pdf )

[ii] Westminster Shorter Catechism (hereafter WSC) Question1

[iii] DG p. 18, 28, 94, 96, 111, 307, 371, 372

[iv] DG p. 17

[v]  http://opc.org/sc.html

[vi] DG p 18

[vii] DG p. 95

[viii] DG p. 306

[ix] DG p 10, 288

[x] DG p. 306

[xi] Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, p 271 AGES Software (from ch. 8 of The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers…)

[xii]  Many thanks to Pastor Dave Chanski for editorial suggestions and directing me to this John Owen quote!

Delight in the Law (part 3)

delightlaw1

I’d like to complete this short series on delighting in God’s moral law with three further thoughts that should help spur us on and motivate us to imitate Paul and the Psalmist.

First, take a moment to contemplate what a day in your life would be like if everyone in the world perfectly obeyed God’s moral law.  You could trust everything you read or heard.  You could make every business transaction without fear of being ripped off.  You could go wherever you wanted to without fear of harm from others.  You could flip through the TV channels without seeing images that corrupt your mind.  I think we can all agree that that would be one awesome day!  Well, what kind of ridiculous hypocrites must we be to recognize the benefits of others keeping the law, yet refusing to do it ourselves?

Second, consider the foundation and nature of the moral law.  It is the transcript of the character of God Himself.

Many years ago I was terribly disappointed to find that the administrator of one of my favorite websites had decided to leave the Reformed Baptist church he had been a part of.  Part of his explanation for doing so was extremely disturbing to me.  He told of how in his church they had studied the 10 commandments as they are expounded in the Westminster Larger Catechism, and how troubling that was to him.  Anyone familiar with this section of the catechism will agree that it is extremely thorough.  (In my opinion it is the finest concise exposition of the moral law in print.)  But for this man, the exhaustive precision of what God requires was just too much.  He told us that he thought to himself “Who could possibly do all this?  Why even try?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought to myself, “What in the world is he going to do next time he comes across Matt. 5:48?”

Well, I have a much better use for this section of the catechism for you.  Read through it again, examining the precision and exhaustive detail of the perfect obedience our Creator and Redeemer demands of us.  But do that with two considerations in mind:  1. Ponder the fact that this is a description of exactly how our Lord Jesus Christ lived as he walk upon this earth.  He perfectly kept every miniscule detail without the slightest deviation of any kind.  Do you want to know what Christ is like?  Study the moral law.  2.  Consider the moral perfections described and realize that this perfection was not just something God came up with willy-nilly.  This truly is the transcript of His character, to understand and love these commandments is to understand and love the author of these commandments.  We all long to be more conformed to the image of our Lord and Savior.  Conform yourself, inwardly and outwardly, to the demands of His moral law so that you will be more like Him.

And finally, I will conclude with what I believe ought to cause every believer to delight in God’s moral law.  This has been the desire of my heart since the moment of my conversion.  But unfortunately, the church has been so inundated by false teaching and fuzzy thinking about the law that it almost sounds like heresy to many.  We delight in the moral law because it informs us how we can please the one who created and redeemed us!

Ralph Erskine put it this way:

A rigid matter was the law                

          Demanding brick, denying straw

But when with Gospel tongue it sings                

          It bids me fly, and gives me wings

For the unconverted man, the law is an unbearable burden.  Making demands he can never fulfill, and providing absolutely no aid or consolation to anyone guilty of the slightest deviation from its requirements.  But the gospel turns the law into something altogether different!  Through the gospel, God takes the stony rebellious heart out of us and replaces it with a heart of flesh that seeks after God and yearns to please Him.  The law then instructs us how we can show our gratitude and love for Him for whom we now live. Please allow me to make the necessary qualifications.

  1. Unconverted man can do NOTHING to please God!
  2. No one can do ANYTHING to earn God’s favor or salvation!

But neither of these truths contradicts the fact that Christians CAN and SHOULD live and behave in such a way that is pleasing to God! Paul Washer put it this way:

“[A lot of people] think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to Heaven. No, that’s a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed; they have new affections.”        ~ Paul Washer, sermon, “Dating, Courtship, and Marriage.”

What are the new affections he speaks of?  They are the love of Christ and the desire to please Him.  But how do we go about accomplishing the desire to please Him?  Is it that difficult to understand that one way to please someone is by doing what He tells you to do?  It is Christ Himself who said “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14.

Our obedience is utterly imperfect, it could never deserve God’s favor, but He looks upon our feeble efforts as a father watching a small child attempt to please him.  He has cleansed the multitude impurities from our obedience with the blood of Christ and is truly pleased with it.

2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

Colossians 1:10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.

1 John 3:22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

This is why every Christian should delight in the moral law of God.  Every true Christian eagerly desires to please the One who redeemed him.  The moral law teaches us how to accomplish the goal of living a life pleasing to Him.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

Compatibilism: Biblical and Comforting

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.

 Court of the Gentiles

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.

Resting in God’s Decrees MP3 download

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.

God’s purposes:

1.  Chastisement?

2.  Wean us from the world

3.  Draw us nearer to Himself

4.  Conform us to the image of Christ

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

Arminian Antics Create Calvinists

 

 

(How God used an Arminian Bible college to make me a Calvinist)

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TextAloud MP3: 

Background

 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”!

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 9

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In Defense of Parity Ch 9.pdf

In Defense of Parity ch 9.mp3

Access entire book here

In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

CHAPTER NINE
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.

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 7

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In Defense of Parity Ch 7.pdf

In Defense of Parity ch 7.mp3 download

Access entire book here

In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

CHAPTER SEVEN
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.

10 The 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.

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 6

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In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

CHAPTER SIX
An Historical Examination of the Parity of the Eldership in Independency and John Owen

Pastor Dave Chanski

Dr. Poh Boon Sing has rendered a very valuable service to Reformed Baptists in his book, The Keys of the Kingdom. A study on ecclesiology from a Reformed Baptist perspective helps to begin to fill a very real void. Moreover, his directing our attention to our historical roots, most notably those of Puritan Congregationalism, is not only praiseworthy, but also needful and timely.

Our response on these pages has been necessitated however by a number of factors. The first and most obvious factor is that Poh advocates an unscriptural view of plurality and parity in the eldership. Secondly, he has misrepresented the views—and the outworkings of those views—of a large number of other Reformed Baptists. Thirdly-and this is the concern of the present chapter—he has misrepresented the views of John Owen, the great Puritan Congregationalist. (This is not to minimize the valuable service Dr. Poh has rendered in pointing us to Owen and in drawing out much good from him.) The question before us in this chapter is not primarily whether Dr. Poh’s conception of the eldership is scriptural, but whether or not his views find support in the writings of John Owen.

Plurality in the Eldership

When it comes to the subject of plurality in the eldership, we are in basic agreement with Dr. Poh. We believe in the propriety of a plurality of scripturally qualified elders holding office in the local church. With John Owen, we recognize that plurality is the scriptural norm. That is, it is the situation we uniformly encounter in the churches in the New Testament. It is therefore desirable for our churches today. However, to have less than a plurality in a given local church is not sinful in itself.

Dr. Poh, commenting on the circumstances we face in the church today, suggests a modification to our conception of plurality. First, he says that, in the face of what he calls “authoritarian oligarchies”, “it would not be wise [for us today] to stress ‘plurality.”‘ He means that we must be sensitive to the abuses of even a biblical institution and would perhaps do well to de-emphasize plurality. Secondly, Dr. Poh suggests that, for the same reasons, “It is preferable to advocate instead the validity of the office of ruling elders” (as opposed to advocating plurality). We second his concern to avoid abuses in church government. Furthermore, we share his jealousy to guard the integrity of the churches which have not yet been blessed by the Head of the Church with a plurality of elders—or in some cases even one elder. They are not in sin simply because they have not yet achieved the scriptural norm.

However, we do not agree that a de facto retreat from the emphasis on the biblical norm for the eldership is the way to face any perceived or real problems regarding church government. There are definite and weighty reasons for not retreating on this subject, especially at this juncture in the history of the church of Christ. For one thing, the same basic dangers which Owen realized plurality is designed to thwart still threaten the church today. Owen writes, “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.” Also, the times in which we live argue that the doctrine of plurality needs to be articulated and accentuated. Plurality of elders is not the prevailing practice in most evangelical churches in the United States. (Regrettably, a large percentage even of Reformed Baptist churches do not have pluralities of elders.) Further, the troubles faced by every church of Christ regardless of the size of its eldership are only intensified when the scriptural norm does not exist, or to use Paul’s terminology, when there is something “lacking” (Titus 1:5).

Therefore, we wholeheartedly concur with Owen’s sentiments when he writes:

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…. And some there are who begin to maintain that there is no need of any more but one pastor, bishop, or elder in a particular church, which hath its rule in itself, other elders for rule being unnecessary. This is a novel opinion, contradictory to the sense and practice of the church in all ages.

Parity in the Eldership

Our chief area of disagreement with Dr. Poh centers around the subject of parity in the eldership. The word parity means “equality”. When it is applied to the elders in a church, it means that they have equal power or authority when it comes to governing the church. “Parity” is therefore verbal shorthand for “parity of authority”.

Poh cannot affirm that there is parity of authority among the elders in a church. He believes in a hierarchy of authority among elders, and he bases it upon the distinction John Owen drew between elders who labor in the ministry of the Word and those who do not.

John Owen believed that there is a distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders. To him, the teaching elders are the pastors. All pastors are elders, but not all elders are pastors. The pastors have the priority over the ruling elders. The pastor (or one of them, if there are more than one pastors [sic]) should act as the leading elder.

Poh is right in his assertion that Owen made a distinction between pastors and ruling elders. Owen also asserted that there is a genuine primacy inherent in the calling of the ministry of the Word. However we will see that Poh is incorrect to maintain that Owen grants a greater authority to the pastor than to the ruling elder when it comes to the government of the church.

Poh further argues that other Reformed Baptists are wrong to maintain that parity ought to exist among all the elders in a church. He writes:

Some Reformed Baptists are advocating a view of the eldership in which all elders are regarded as equal, with no distinction between them apart, perhaps, for the different functions they perform. To them, all elders are pastors.

This is a fair representation of the doctrine of parity held by a number of Reformed Baptists. However, Poh does not regard this difference from his own view as either minor or innocent. He writes, “[S]ome…[churches] believe in the ‘equality of elders’ and carry this to an extreme, calling every elder ‘pastor’ . He also caricatures their view of parity by calling it the “Absolute Equality View”, and asserting that those who hold to parity believe “that all the elders are equal in authority in every way”. One might be led to think that those who hold to parity teach that the elders in a church must wear the same shoe size and part their hair in the same way. At best, Poh gives a poor caricature of the views of such Reformed Baptists as Sam Waldron and A. N. Martin based, we presume, on ignorance of their actual teaching and practice.

Church Polity and Church History

It is the concern of the other chapters of this book to assess the scripturalness of the views of both Poh Boon Sing and John Owen regarding the eldership, and to articulate our view of plurality and parity in the eldership. It is our present concern however to evaluate Poh’s professed reliance upon and adherence to John Owen, the great exponent of Puritan Congregationalism. As we will see, Poh follows Owen to a point, but when it comes to authority to rule in the church, he makes a significant departure from the Puritan.

As we begin this consideration from the standpoint of historical theology, we must remember that our first and final authority is the Word of God. It is one thing to recognize the significant place of John Owen in our own stream of church polity and our great indebtedness to him; it is another to rigidly adhere to him despite the teaching of the Scriptures. Poh himself explicitly recognizes the supremacy of Scripture in determining our own convictions and practice. The Independent ministers of the Westminster Assembly expressed this dependence upon the Word of God as well in a seminal document in the history of Congregationalism:

First, the supreame rule without us, was the Primitive patterne and example of the churches erected by the Apostles. Our consciences were possessed with that reverence and adoration of fulnesse of the Scriptures, that there is therein a compleat sufficiencie, as to make the man of God perfect, so also to make the Churches of God perfect, (meere circumstances we except, or what rules the law of nature doth in common dictate) if the directions and examples therein delivered were fully known and followed…. A second Principle we carryed along with us in all our resolutions, was, Not to make our present judgement and practice a binding law unto our selves for the future, which we in like manner made continuall profession of upon all occasions. We had too great an instance of our own frailty in the former way of our conformity; and therefore in a jealousie of our selves, we kept this reserve, (which we made open and constant professions of) to alter and retract (though not lightly) what ever should be discovered to be taken up out of a mis-understanding of the rule: Which Principle wee wish were (next to that most supreame, namely, to be in all things guided by the perfect wil of God) enacted as the most sacred law of all other, in the midst of all other Laws and Canons Ecclesiastical in Christian States and Churches throughout the world.

We are grateful for the Puritans’—and Poh’s—conviction that the matter must be resolved exegetically and for the Congregationalists’ explicit recognition that progress in doctrine did not end with them.

Another vital consideration is the plain reality that there is not homogeneity in “Independent” church polity, particularly when it comes to the subjects of plurality and parity in the eldership. For instance, as we saw above, John Owen insisted that the scriptural norm is to have a plurality of elders in each church. He emphasized the scriptural validity of the office of ruling elder. Contrast Owen’s convictions with these words of Benjamin Keach, the seventeenth century Particular Baptist:

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 directly laid down, and how to be chosen, and their work declared, but of no other office or officers in the church, but these only.

This is a fairly radical departure from Owen when it comes to the subject at hand, and it comes from one of the signers of the 1689 Confession. However we are not compelled to follow Keach in his departure from Owen precisely because we are not bound to follow either one of them whenever we find them at variance with the Word of God.

There were Particular Baptists in this country who held to the view of church officers defended in this anthology—i.e. that the titles pastor, bishop, and elder all refer to all the rulers in the church. The Baptist Association of Charlestown, South Carolina wrote in their Summary of Church-Discipline in 1774:

The ordinary officers of the church, and the only ones now existing, are ministers and deacons (Phil 1:1)…. Ministers of the gospel, who are frequently called elders, bishops, pastors, and teachers, are appointed by Christ to the highest office in the church and therefore need peculiar qualifications such as are pointed out (1 Tim. 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-10).

Here is the view we advocate, held by Baptists directly upstream from us in the current of ecclesiastical development and tradition. These Baptists had adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith and were undoubtedly aware of their indebtedness to the Puritan Congregationalists, Owen included. Nevertheless, they did not consider themselves bound to follow Owen in this point of church polity, based on their clearer light from the Word of God.

As did our Baptist predecessors, we do well to remember that church history helps us to see Scriptural light, but it is not that light itself and therefore not authoritative for us. We are greatly indebted to our forefathers in the faith, most notably to the Particular Baptists and the Puritan Congregationalists on whose ecclesiastical shoulders the Baptists stood. We neglect the light they furnish us at our peril. Our first commitment however is to the Word of God, not to John Owen, not even to the 1689 Confession.

Poh Boon Sing and John Owen on Parity

It remains for us to consider in greater detail what John Owen taught regarding the eldership generally, and regarding parity in particular. What did the great Puritan say about the matters of office, plurality, function, and parity? Who are his legitimate ecclesiological descendents?

Offices in the church

Owen held to the view that there are two distinct offices in the church, elder and deacon. Though he distinguished between teaching elders (the pastor is a teaching elder) and ruling elders, he asserted that they held the same office. That is, Owen recognized a distinction within the one office of elder between two distinct types or classes of elders.

The bishops or elders are of two sorts: 1. Such as have authority to teach and administer the sacraments, which is commonly called the power of order; and also of ruling, which is called a power of jurisdiction, corruptly: and, 2. Some have only power for rule; of which sort there are some in all the churches in the world.’

He emphasizes that though there is a distinction when it comes to function within the office of the eldership, there is nevertheless one office only. Whereas deacons hold an entirely distinct office from elders, yet pastors and ruling elders, though they possess different functions in the church, occupy the same office. Owen wrote:

The distinction between the elders themselves is not like that between elders and deacons, which is as unto the whole kind or nature of the office, but only with respect unto work and order, whereof we shall treat distinctly.

There is no uniformity in Independency on this subject of offices, even among the Puritan Congregationalists themselves. The Congregationalists in New England held, contrary to Owen, that pastors and teachers held one office, ruling elders another. The Baptists of the Philadelphia Baptist Association did not follow Owen on this point either, asserting that the office of ruling elder was “wholly a distinct office” from that of the office of minister. As noted above, Benjamin Keach argued that a ruling elder does not occupy any office, properly speaking. Thus, it is meaningless, if not misleading, to speak of “the Independent position” or “the Particular Baptist position” on this point.

Reformed Baptists today are generally in agreement with Owen regarding the number of offices in the church, holding that all elders occupy the same office in the church, whether they labor in the Word and doctrine or not. Poh agrees with Owen at this point, and such is the position advocated in this book.

Diversity of gift and junction among elders.

Owen, Poh, and the writers of these articles agree that there is a vast and legitimate degree of diversity of gifts possessed and tasks performed by men who are elders in the church of Christ. All recognize the peculiar calling and work of some elders to “labor in word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). This is a scriptural distinction. Whether an elder labors in Word and doctrine or not depends on a number of factors, including his level of gift, the peculiar needs of the church, the opportunities available, the recognition of the church and eldership, and his corresponding assignment or commission to that task.

To one side of Owen at this point are the Congregationalists and Baptists who made a sharper distinction between pastors and ruling elders than Owen himself did and assigned to them separate and distinct offices. In their minds, this functional diversity could not be exercised within the same office. The Philadelphia Association’s Short Treatise says:

Their [ruling elders’] office only relateth to rule and order, in the church of God, and doth not include teaching; yet if the church findeth they have gifts and abilities to be useful in teaching, they may be put upon trial, and if approved, they may be called and solemnly set apart by ordination, it being wholly a distinct office from the former, which was only to rule well, and not to labor in Word and doctrine.

To the other side of Owen are those who insist that all the elders share equally in every task and thus artificially divide the pastoral labors with strict uniformity among all the elders. Such a view is based on a superficial understanding and a perversion of the biblical notion of “parity” among elders.

Here, we agree with Owen in substance, but not in form. That is, we recognize the diversity of function legitimate within an eldership without adopting rigid categories which are foreign to the Scriptures, John Owen notwithstanding. For some, those categories take the form of assigning separate offices to pastors and ruling elders. For Owen, they take the form of assigning separate titles to pastors and ruling elders. For him, only an elder who labors in Word and doctrine may be called pastor. Poh, for his part, faithfully follows Owen at this point. We have seen, however, that the New Testament designations pastor, bishop, and elder all refer to all the elders without distinction (Chapter 4). Therefore; we regard our primary difference with Owen to be essentially one of terminology, not of substance, as the next consideration will especially make clear.

Poh criticizes those who hold what he calls the “Absolute Equality View” of the eldership: “All the elders are regarded as pastors. They are equal in power. They have equal right to preach. The elders may end up preaching in rotation, as have [sic] occurred in Brethren circles!” Note that 1) there is nothing improper about elders preaching in rotation if they are all gifted to preach and this is recognized by the church; 2) Poh wrongly implies that those who hold our view do not admit the distinction made in 1 Tim. 5:17 between those elders who labor in the Word and those who do not—we agree with Owen on this point; we depart from Owen in our terminology, in that he differentiates the preacher from non-­preaching elders by calling him “pastor”, whereas we call him “pastor-­teacher”, “teaching elder”, or “pastor who labors in Word and doctrine”; 3) not even Owen disputes the truth that others besides teaching elders may teach publicly. He identifies the ruling elders as “Elders not called to teach ordinarily…” Why does Owen make so much of the titles “pastor” and “teacher” and restrict them—in particular the title “pastor”—to only those elders who regularly teach publicly? The first answer is because of his flawed exegesis of Ephesians 4:11. Owen believed that the last two words in this text, “pastor” and “teacher”, referred to two distinct ministers of the word, and that was his basis for reserving the title “pastor” for only a teaching elder. However, the best interpretation of Eph. 4:11 sees these words as the description of one man, not two. Thus “pastor-teacher” refers to a pastor who is a teacher, or to put it as Paul does elsewhere, an “elder … who labor[s] in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). Secondly, the historical context in which Owen and the rest of the Puritans labored helps to explain the sharp distinction they drew between teaching and ruling elders. They were departing from the Anglican prelatical system, in which a person who held an office of authority in the church, but was not a minister of the Word, was basically unheard of. It was unthinkable for many Anglicans that anyone other than a minister of the Word should have such a place of prominence & authority. (There was heated debate in the Westminster Assembly over this issue. Arguing against the introduction of ruling elders, Henry Wilkinson protested, “I have informed myselfe concerning those churches in which the discipline is exercised [i.e. churches with ruling elders]… in some of them 12 lay elders & but one minister & he hath but a single voyce[!]” Thus did the pressure to justify elders who were not preachers and the intense scrutiny they came under pave the way for the imprecise application of one biblical term “pastor” and the development of another term that is extrabiblical “ruling elder”.

Parity of authority.

Parity is the key area of difference between us and Poh Boon Sing. It is also the key area of difference between Poh and John Owen. Parity means equality. With reference to local church elderships, parity refers to parity of authority and means that all the elders, whether they are preachers or not, have the same degree of authority when it comes to the rule of the church. Their authority is not of a lower grade; they are not second in rank to the preaching elder(s).

Poh does not agree that there should be such parity of authority among the elders in a church. He believes that elders who labor in the Word have a higher degree of authority than elders who do not labor in the word. He writes:

The ministry of the word should have primacy (that is, the supreme place, the pre-eminence) in the life of the church. It should have priority (that is, being earlier, occupying the position of greater importance) over other important matters. Of the two types of elders, the teaching elders have the priority over the ruling elders.

The first two sentences in this quotation reflect the conviction of all Reformed Baptists, being no more than assertions of the doctrine of the primacy of the Word of God or the primacy of preaching. The greatest exponents of the primacy of preaching were the Puritans, whose heirs we cannot be without affirming that doctrine and emulating their application of it. Owen certainly upheld the doctrine of the primacy of preaching. He would even have agreed that, because of the importance of the ministry of the Word, those who are continuously engaged in it warrant a degree of honor commensurate with their calling. This is a legitimate application of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thess. 5:13, to “esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” A pastor who labors in the Word and doctrine is employed in the most noble occupation to which a man can be called, and he ought to be esteemed accordingly.

It is a very simple step to proceed from this conviction of the primacy of preaching and the corresponding importance of the preaching office and the value of the men who occupy it to the assertion that the elder who teaches possesses a higher level of authority in the church than the elder who does not. This is the assertion Poh makes in the last sentence in the above quotation: “Of the two types of elders, the teaching elders have the priority over the ruling elders.” But Poh walks alone when he takes that step. He is no longer following Owen, because that is a direction in which the Puritan will by no means go. Owen never argues that, on the basis of the “superiority” of the teaching function, the one who labors in Word and doctrine has greater governing authority. Poh evidently senses this when he attempts to enlist support for his assertion from Owen. He appears to realize that he has no explicit support from Owen here and that the strongest statement he can make is that there “are some indications that Owen did believe in the priority of the ministry” in the sense in which he (Poh) understands it. In fact, there are no such indications in Owen whatsoever.

Owen does indeed address the subject of the relative power or authority of the several elders in the church explicitly and directly. Here is what he says:

The qualification of these [ruling] elders, with the way of their call and setting apart unto their office, being the same with those of the teaching elders before insisted on, need not be here again repeated. 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. Yea, the business of rule being peculiarly committed unto them, and they required to attend thereunto with diligence in an especial manner, the work thereof is principally theirs, as that of labouring in the word and doctrine doth especially belong unto the pastors and teachers of the churches. 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.

Arguing against episcopacy, he writes:

… I shall briefly, as in a diversion, add the arguments which undeniably prove that in the whole New Testament bishops and presbyters, or elders, are every way the same persons, in the same office, have the same function, without distinction in order or degree

Again:

They [ruling elders] are joined unto the teaching elders in all acts and duties of church-power for the rule and government of the church;…. Both sorts of elders are joined and do concur in the same rule and all the acts of it, one sort of them labouring also in the Word and doctrine. Of both sorts is the presbytery or eldership composed, wherein resides all church-authority. And in this conjunction, those of both sorts are every way equal, determining all acts of rule by their common suffrage.

We cannot but conclude that, if anyone is “guilty” of teaching the “absolute equality” of elders when it comes to authority in the church, John Owen is. Moreover, Owen is unmistakably clear and emphatic regarding this point. It is almost as if he were saying, “Read my lips.” Why would he have seen it necessary to be so dogmatic? Three reasons suggest themselves. First, it was difficult for those sympathetic to the prelatical Anglican system to even see the validity of the ruling elder, let alone to admit that one who was not a “minister of the Word” could possess governing authority equal to that of a “minister”. Second, Owen may have anticipated that the sharp distinction he drew between pastor and ruling elder, together with the recognition of the primacy of preaching, might lead some to conclude that the pastor is superior in rule. (Evidently such anticipation was well founded.) He wanted to make it crystal clear that he was in no way implying any such thing. Third, Owen was emphatic regarding parity because he was so vigorously opposed to anything but a parity of power among elders. Since he saw the grave danger of building a niche for a Diotrephes right into the authority structure of the church, he adamantly opposed it and warned against it. Insisting that elders are “the highest officers in the Christian church”, he wrote:

The pope would now scarce take it well to be esteemed only an elder of the church of Rome, unless it be in the sense wherein the Turkish monarch is called the Grand Seignior. But those who would be in the church above elders have no office in it, whatever usurpation they may make over it.

So, John Owen.

“Leading elder”

One further consideration warrants discussion. Dr. Poh addresses the subject of the manner in which “the priority of the ministry” is applied practically in the governing of the church. He writes:

In all such meetings [of church officers], the pastor should normally be the chairman. If there are more than one pastors in the church, one of them who has been recognised and approved by the church as the leading elder would be the chairman. This is to be so by virtue of the principle of “the priority of the ministry”.

Again,

All pastors are elders, but not all elders are pastors. The pastors have the priority over the ruling elders. The pastor (or one of them, if there are more than one pastors) should act as the leading elder.

Owen also addresses this concept of leading elder or chairman of the elders. But once again, when we compare Poh with Owen, we find that he follows the Puritan to a degree-but only to a degree. Poh conflicts with Owen based on the same misunderstanding noted above. Because Poh insists that the pastor, or teaching elder, has de jure authority above that of the non-teaching elder(s), he reasons that when there is even the smallest plurality in an eldership consisting of at least one teaching elder and one non-teaching elder, the teaching elder presides as chairman in their meetings. Owen likewise recognizes the need for one elder to preside in meetings, but he only calls for this “where a church is greatly increased, so as that there is a necessity of many elders in it for its instruction and rule”. Furthermore, whereas Poh grounds the “pastor’s” chairmanship in “the primacy of the ministry”, Owen cites other factors in the determination of this presider, determinants which may be found in any of the elders in the church, regardless of whether he is a teaching elder or not. Owen says that the elders may “take turns” at this duty.

Whether the person that is so to preside be directed unto by being first converted, or first ordained, or on the account of age, or of gifts and abilities, whether he continue for a season only, and then another be deputed unto the same work, or for his life, are things in themselves indifferent, to be determined according unto the general rules of reason and order, with respect unto the edification of the church.

Note what Owen maintains regarding this presiding function: 1) it is only necessary when a church has “many elders”; 2) determination of who performs it is not based on any superior office which he holds; 3) it does not superadd any additional authority to the one who serves in it; 4) its use neither constitutes nor creates any new or separate office in the church; 5) it is in no way a departure from parity of authority—Owen states this most explicitly in the midst of his discussion of this subject:

[A]mong these elders one should be chosen by themselves, with the consent of the church, not into a new order, not into a degree of authority above his brethren, but only unto his part of the common work in a peculiar manner, which requires some kind of precedency. Hereby no new officer, no new order of officers, no new degree of power or authority, is constituted in the church; only the work and duty of it is cast into such an order as the very light of nature doth require. But there is not any intimation in the Scripture of the least imparity or inequality, in order, degree, or authority, among officers of the same sort, whether extraordinary or ordinary.

(Owen is so careful to avoid any pitfall that he refrains even from giving a title to the position he describes here.)

Conclusion

Poh Boon Sing’s interpretation of John Owen’s church polity is inaccurate, especially on the key matter of parity in the eldership. His portrayal of the views of other Reformed Baptists is also flawed. Regrettably, he has evidently studied neither well. The Reformed Baptists who have published this volume hold to Owen’s views on the eldership essentially, differing from him basically in terminology. Poh disagrees with Owen on a most vital matter—that of the division of authority among elders in the church.

Owen’s influence is evident in A. N. Martin’s summary statement regarding plurality and parity in the eldership: “The normal framework for the administration of the task of oversight is that of a plurality of scripturally qualified overseers functioning with genuine parity, but with realistic, harmonious, functional diversity.” This is Owen’s view in substance. May we ever guard the deposit handed to us by our godly predecessors, always testing all things by the Scriptures, and holding fast what is good.

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 5

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In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

CHAPTER FIVE
Careful Exposition of 1 Timothy 5:17

Pastor Sam Waldron

In any examination and application to our circumstances of a biblical text we must be careful to allow the text to speak for itself first and ask first what its natural sense is. There is a place to re-examine our interpretation of a biblical text on the basis of our practical concerns with regard to the way in which it raises questions or seems to contradict other parts of biblical revelation. Yet we must not allow such concerns too quickly to mold or influence our interpretation of a text lest we read our own systematic theology into every text of the Bible and never learn anything which expands or refines our views.

All this is especially true with regard to 1 Tim. 5:17. We must allow it to speak for itself in its native context. We must not manipulate it early in the interpretive process so as make sure that it raises no questions about deeply held convictions. For this reason I intend to open up this text under two headings:

I. Its Historical and Grammatical Interpretation

II. Its Practical and Ecclesiastical Implications

I. Its Historical and Grammatical Interpretation

The theme of 1 Tim. 5:17 clearly revolves around two unusual phrases used in it by Paul and used nowhere else in the New Testament. Those unusual phrases are double honor and the elders who rule well. We may summarize its theme in the following statement. The theme of 1 Tim. 5:17 is Paul’s direction to Timothy that well-ruling elders should be considered worthy of double honor. Double honor and well-ruling elders are the twin difficulties which must be explained in order to understand the text. The interpretation of this text is properly structured around an examination of the meaning of these phrases. We will, therefore seek to ask and answer two questions about this phrase.

  • What is double honor?
  • Who are the well-ruling elders to be considered worthy of double honor?

What is double honor?

The answer to this question must begin by answering the more basic question, What does honor mean in this text? My conviction is that honor here designates giving something of material value to someone as a mark of the value we attach to them and the esteem and respect in which we hold them. In this case the thing of material value is the regular, financial support of the church. This conclusion is supported by both the usage of this word in the New Testament and its usage in 1 Tim. 5:17.

Honor, in the New Testament, often has its usual meaning to us, esteem or respect, but it frequently designates something of material value (Matt. 27:6-9; Acts 4:34; 5:2, 3; 7:16; 19:19). Thayer’s defines the word as follows: 1) a valuing by which the price is fixed 1a) of the price itself 1b) of the price paid or received for a person or thing bought or sold 2) honour which belongs or is shown to one 2a) of the honour which one has by reason of rank and state of office which he holds 2b) deference, reverence. The English word, honorarium, may illustrate how the idea of honor may cross over into the idea of something of material value.

Which of these meanings we should select for the word as it is used in 1 Tim. 5:17 must be determined, of course by the context of its usage there. In this case there is very significant and even determinative data found in the context of 1 Tim. 5:17.

The whole of 1 Timothy has for its theme and purpose the giving of directions to Timothy as to how his ministry in the church at Ephesus should be ordered. This theme is found in 1 Tim. 3:14 and 15, “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” The contents of this epistle may be arranged in terms of this key verse and the purpose it states for this letter. In 2:1-15 Paul’s concern is to give directions about the meetings of the church. In 3:1-13 Paul gives directions concerning the officers of the church. In 4:1-16 Paul addresses Timothy personally and gives him directions concerning himself and his ministry to the church. Chapter 5 continues this theme. With the beginning of chapter 5 Paul begins to give particular directions to Timothy as to how he should order his ministry to certain classes of people in the church. Verses 1 and 2 instruct Timothy as to his ministry to older and younger men and women. 6:1 and 2 gives directions with regard to slaves in the church. 6:3-15 addresses the subject of those advocating a different doctrine. 1 Tim. 6:17-19 tells Timothy how to deal with those in the church who are rich. The following outline may help to make this structure clear.

The Theme of 1 Timothy-Instructions to Timothy about His Ministry to the Church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14-15)

I. Instructions about His Ministry regarding the Overall Organization of the Church (1 Tim. 2:1-3:13)

A.   The Services of the Church (1 Tim. 2:1-15)

B.   The Offices of the Church (1 Tim. 3:1-13)

II. Instruction about His Ministry to Various Classes in the Church (1 Tim. 4:1-6:19)

A.   To Himself (4:1-16)

B.   To Different Age Groups (5:1-2)

C.   To Widows (5:3-16)

D.   To Elders (5:17-25)

E.   To Slaves (6:1-2)

F.   To Erring Teachers (6:3-5)

G.  To Those Who Want To Be Or Are Rich (6:6-19)

In the midst of this treatment of Timothy’s ministry to different classes in the church, Paul deals with the classes of the widows and the elders of the church.  These two sections are closely related in two different ways. First, they occur successively. 5:3-16 addresses the subject of widows. 5:17-22 addresses the subject of elders. Second, they both are concerned with the subject of those whom the church financially supports. This is no doubt why they are treated in immediate succession.

What is of great interest to us for our study of honor in 1 Tim. 5:17 is that the subject of financial support is addressed by means of the same root word in 1 Tim. 5:3.  Paul begins his treatment of the financial support of widows by using the verbal form of the word translated, honor, in verse 17. He commands, “Honor widows who are widows indeed.” The meaning of this command need not be a matter of any real debate. Paul is commanding that certain widows should be financially supported by the church as a token of the respect and esteem of the church for them.

In particular it is crucial to note that the matter of financial support is inextricably and inseparably bound up with the command to honor the widows. This is put beyond doubt by the succeeding context. In verse 4 Paul proceeds immediately to qualify his command. It is probably that here one of his particular concerns about the situation in Ephesus emerges. Throughout verse 4-16 Paul’s intent is to restrict the practice of financially supporting widows only to widows indeed. That is to say, he restricts support to needy widows-those who are truly destitute of anyone who is able to financially provide for them-and to worthy widows—those who have lived an exemplary and godly life. In all of this it is plain that honoring widows means financially supporting them. Paul restricts this honor to widows indeed—those who do not have families or others who may provide for them (v. 4 and 16). Clearly, simple respect and esteem may be due to many widows who have children who can provide for them. Paul’s point is, however, that the church should not feel an obligation to honor them by way of financial support. Financial support is clearly key to and inseparable from the idea of honor. Furthermore, the idea of financial support is patent in several of the verses which serve to explain and qualify verse 3. It is the idea of making some return to their parents in verse 4. It is the idea of providing for one’s own in verse 8. It is the idea of assisting them in verse 16.

When with this preceding context Paul speaks of double honor in verse 17 using the same root, it is impossible to extract from the meaning of this word the idea of financial support. All of this is made even more plain by the succeeding context of verse 17. Verse 18 explains and confirms verse 17. Note the conjunction, for. The language of verse 18, however, makes perfectly plain that financial support is essentially involved in the idea of honor in verse 17. Paul cites the words of Deut. 25:4 (“You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”) also in 1 Cor. 9:9. There the theme is plainly the financial support of ministers of the Word. The phrase “The worker is worthy of his wages”, is cited in all likelihood from the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 and is used there also of the material support of those who preach the gospel. If language is capable of conveying meaning, then we may be sure that the term, honor, as it is used in this context essentially, inseparably, and inextricably includes financial support. Its meaning is financial support given as a mark of the value and esteem of the church.

This understanding of the meaning of the word, honor, in this context enables us now to address our original question, What is double honor? Two clues unlock the meaning of this unusual phrase. The first is the use of double in the New Testament. The second is the use of honor in 1 Tim. 5:3.

The first clue is the use of double in the New Testament. This word is used only two other times in the New Testament.

Matthew 23:15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Revelation 18:6 Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.

The only occurrence of the verb meaning to double also occurs in Revelation 18:6. Double in these passages is clearly used figuratively. This does not mean, of course, that the word could not be used in a literal fashion, but it does show that it is not at all far-fetched to understand it here in 1 Tim. 5:17 in a figurative way. What is the figurative meaning of double? It is clearly used figuratively to indicate amplitude or great extent. Double honor is, then, ample material or financial support.

The second clue is the use of honor in verse 3.    The connection between verse 3 and verse 17 must be underscored at this point. As we have seen earlier, there is the most intimate connection between the preceding section on the financial support or honoring of widows and verses 17 and 18 which also deal with the issue of financial support, the church financially supporting elders. As we have also seen, the thrust of Paul’s comments in verses 3-16 is to the effect that, while really needy widows are to be supported, the church is not to be unnecessarily burdened. This suggests that the church was indeed being unduly burdened with the support of widows in Ephesus. At least, it suggests that there were sentiments at work in the church there that could easily lead in that direction. There is the most natural relationship between this thrust and the thrust of verses 17 and 18. If the church was tending on the one hand to be unduly concerned about the support of widows, it was also exhibiting a tendency to neglect the support of the work of the gospel. Hence, on the one hand Paul warns against unduly burdening the church with the honoring of widows in verses 3-16. Then, immediately after this he directs that double honor should be given to the well-ruling elders. The contrast is, I think, obvious. The problem was evidently a tendency either to neglect supporting such elders at all, or to inadequately support them. Perhaps both of these things were problems. To defeat such a tendency Paul directs that well-ruling elders should be considered worthy of double honor.

We can easily see how such a tendency would arise if we examine some instructions Paul had given to the church at Ephesus in previous years. Remember it is the church in Ephesus in which Timothy is exercising his ministry and about which Paul is instructing him (1 Tim. 1:3). To this church’s leaders Paul had addressed some very powerful words of exhortation which could have had the effect (if taken to an extreme) of producing the very tendencies we see implied in 1 Tim. 5:17. Acts 20:17-38 is one of the classic and most instructive passages in the New Testament on the subject of biblical eldership. Coincidentally, it also provides the historical backdrop which explains the problems Paul addresses in 1 Tim. 5:17.

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”‘ 36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship.

Let me point out to you a number of basic truths about the eldership implied in this passage which lay the foundation for understanding the backdrop of 1 Tim. 5:17. In Acts 20:

(1) There was a single church in Ephesus which had a plurality of elders (v. 17).

(2) These elders were also called overseers (bishops in Old English) and shepherds (pastors in Old English) (v. 18). No distinction is made between some who were elders and others who were bishops or pastors.

(3) Most (if not all) of these elders worked at ordinary professions and vocations and were not financially supported by the church (v. 33-35). Probably all of these men were originally called to be elders of the church while continuing their labors in the secular vocations in which they had been laboring. Thus, Paul calls upon them to follow his example of tent-­making and be examples of working hard with their own hands and giving to the weak.

Now you can see from these instructions how the very situation implied in 1 Tim. 5 could have developed. With Paul’s powerful words on this emotional occasion ringing in their ears, the elders would have been loathe to take any money from the church and careful to the point of excess to care for the weak, the widows being the prime example of this category. Hence, it could easily come to pass that the widow’s benevolence would be taken to the point of excess and ministerial support be minimal or non-existent in the church in Ephesus.

All of this makes abundantly clear that the contrast intended in the text is between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders. Widows are to be honored (financially). Elders are to be doubly-honored financially. In contrast to widows with their comparatively small needs, well-ruling elders (who as men would have much heavier responsibilities to their families etc.) are to be the objects of a generous and ample material support from the church. Paul’s point is not to be taken with strict literality. As we have seen, the word double is intended figuratively. Yet, the use of the word, double, does make plain that the well-ruling elders are to be supported in a way that greatly exceeds the support given to widows. This, by the way, is the interpretation of Calvin. Here is what he says:

… I think it is more probable that a comparison is here drawn between widows and elders. Paul had formerly enjoined that honour should be paid to widows; but elders are more worthy of being honoured than widows, and, with respect to them, ought to receive double honour. (p. 138)

One of the implications of this exegesis must now be pointed out. The contrast in the text is not between honoring all (the rest of) the elders and double honoring well-ruling elders. The contrast is between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders. It may be natural for us to assume that Paul is contrasting honoring elders and double-honoring well-ruling elders. But this is a contrast about which the text is simply silent. It is serious exegetical mistake to exegete 1 Tim. 5:17 in terms of a contrast about which the text is completely silent, while ignoring the clear and patent contrast instituted by Paul himself between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders.

Now having dealt with the question, What is double honor?, we must now address the issue of…

Who are the well-ruling elders to be considered worthy of double honor?

The answer which Paul gives to this question is in itself clear. Those to be doubly-honored are clearly well-ruling elders. At this point, however, two issues raised by this apparently clear answer must be addressed. On the one side, we must ask the question, What does he mean to imply about the rest of the elders who are not included in the phrase, well-ruling elders? On the other side, we must ask the question, How are “those who work hard at preaching and teaching” related to the class called well-ruling elders?

What does Paul mean to imply about the rest of the elders who are not included in the phrase, well-ruling elders? The difficulty here is that there is a possible contrast between the elders who rule well and the elders who rule badly. Does Paul mean to say that the rest of the elders rule badly and are not therefore to be financially supported? Possible support for this opinion might be gleaned from the succeeding context which speaks of elders who “continue in sin” (vv. 19, 20).

While elders “who continue in sin” certainly would be included among the general class of the elders who do not rule well, it is wrong and unnecessary to think that the contrast here is between well-ruling elders and badly-ruling elders.

In the first place, it seems quite unlikely that Paul would set up a situation by such language (if it is intended to contrast well and badly) in which every non-supported elder would be viewed as ruling badly. But this is exactly what anyone who assumes such a contrast would be asserting that Paul is doing. If in response to this letter an elder was not considered worthy of double-honor, then the implication would be that he was ruling ineptly or badly.

In the second place, the meaning of the word, well, clearly allows a different interpretation. Thayer’s gives this definition of the word, well: 1) beautifully, finely, excellently, well la) rightly, so that there shall be no room for blame, well, truly lb) excellently, nobly, commendably 1c) honourably, in honour 1c1) in a good place, comfortable 1d) to speak well of one, to do good le) to be well (of those recovering health). Clearly, this definition shows that the word is susceptible of conveying a superlative force. The well-ruling elder is, then, the excellently ruling elder. The contrast, then, would be on this translation between excellently ruling elders and other good and qualified elders. In the following usages of this word in the New Testament it appears to have this force. The Greek word, well, used in 1 Tim. 5:17 is in bold type in each text.

Matthew 15:7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,

Mark 7:6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.’

Mark 7:9 He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”

Mark 7:37 And they were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”

Mark 12:32 And the scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE; AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM;

Luke 20:39 And some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.”

Acts 28:25 And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers,”

Romans 11:20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;

1 Corinthians 7:37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.

1 Tim. 3:1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

1 Tim. 3:13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

James 2:3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”

Furthermore, the emphasis of Paul in this verse is not upon grace, but gift. He speaks generally of ruling and especially of teaching. The Bible makes clear teaching and ruling are gifts that are given in greatly varying degrees to different men (Rom. 12:7, 8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). The lack of a high degree of such gifts does not disparage the character or disqualify the person of an elder who does not possess them.  Furthermore, it is unlikely in the extreme given the economic situation of the early church that Paul means to direct that every qualified elder should be considered worthy of generous financial support by the church. The church at Ephesus had many elders (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17-22) all of whom (apparently) at one point in its life were working to support themselves (Acts 20:34, 35). It is better, then, to recognize in the adverb, well, a superlative or comparative sense which is intended to contrast not good and bad, but good, better, and best.

What things, then, might keep a man from being a well-ruling elder? Many things that do not disparage his character and general qualifications for the office at all. Such things might include the lack of strong gifts of leading and teaching, the lack of a good education to refine such natural gifts, circumstances like age or ill-health, distractions like an unusual family or work situation, or inexperience due to comparative youthfulness and immaturity. None of these things disqualify a man from the eldership, but they may hinder his being described as an excellently ruling elder.

In conclusion we may say that implicit in Paul’s reference to well­-ruling elders is the idea that the well-ruling elders are an inner circle in a larger circle of good and qualified elders.

Paul’s reference to well-ruling elders is not only implicitly contrasted with a larger circle of qualified elders, but it is also explicitly contrasted with a smaller circle within the circle of well-ruling elders.  Paul’s language conveys this: “especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Especially those well-ruling elders who labor in the Word and teaching, the public ministry of the Word, are to be supported. Paul’s thought may be illustrated by means of two concentric circles. The outer circle encompasses all well-ruling elders. The inner circle encompasses those elders who (are gifted to) “work hard at preaching and teaching.” Financial support (double honor) must be focused in the inner circle and radiate outward as the necessity and ability of the church makes this appropriate.

A question has been raised occasionally about the meaning of the word, especially, which Paul uses here. Some have thought it might mean specifically. If this were the case, it would result in the possible identification of all well-ruling elders as “those who work hard at preaching and teaching”. The fact is that there is no lexical evidence for this meaning. Neither is it required in any of its usages in either the LXX or the New Testament. With one voice the lexicons attribute a superlative force to the word and ascribe to it the meaning, especially, in this context.

II. Its Practical and Ecclesiastical Implications

A. Questions to be Answered

1. Doesn’t this imply that all the rest of the qualified elders besides those who are described as well-ruling elders should be singly honored, that is financially supported to some extent?

I have two comments on this question. First, if the text did imply this, it would not be such an horrendous thing. Let me explain what I mean. If all elders were remunerated in a basic way for their labors for the church, it might be just and would not need to be an undue burden on the church if handled properly. If a non-vocational elder consistently spends 15 hours per week on eldership duties, there would be nothing wrong or impossible about remunerating him on a part-time basis. Second, the fact is, however, that the text does not imply that all elders should be honored. Let me repeat what I said about this in the earlier exposition.

I have argued that the meaning of double honor in verse 17 is inseparably related to the meaning of honor in 1 Tim. 5:3. As we have also seen, the thrust of Paul’s comments in verses 3-16 is to the effect that, while really needy widows are to be supported, the church is not to be unnecessarily burdened with the financial support of other widows. This suggests that the church was indeed being unduly burdened with the support of widows in Ephesus. There is the most natural relationship between this thrust and the thrust of verses 17 and 18. If the church was tending on the one hand to be unduly concerned about the support of widows, it was also exhibiting a tendency to neglect the support of the work of the gospel. Hence, on the one hand Paul warns against unduly burdening the church with the honoring of widows in verses 3-16. Then, immediately after this he directs that double honor should be given to the well-ruling elders. The contrast is, I think, obvious. The problem was evidently a tendency either to neglect supporting such elders at all, or to inadequately support them. Perhaps both of these things were problems. To defeat such a tendency Paul directs that well-ruling elders should be considered worthy of double honor.

All of this makes abundantly clear that the contrast intended in the text is between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders. Widows are to be honored (financially). Elders are to be doubly-honored financially. In contrast to widows with their comparatively small needs, well-ruling elders are to be the objects of a generous and ample material support from the church. This is the interpretation of Calvin.

… I think it is more probable that a comparison is here drawn between widows and elders. Paul had formerly enjoined that honour should be paid to widows; but elders are more worthy of being honoured than widows, and, with respect to them, ought to receive double honour. (p. 138)

The contrast in the text is not between honoring all (the rest of) the elders and double honoring well-ruling elders. The contrast is between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders. It may be natural for us to assume that Paul is contrasting honoring elders and double-honoring well-ruling elders. But this is a contrast about which the text is simply silent. It is serious exegetical mistake to exegete 1 Tim. 5:17 in terms of a contrast about which the text is completely silent, while ignoring the clear and patent contrast instituted by Paul himself between honoring widows and double-honoring well-ruling elders. If this is appreciated, then there is no need to struggle to avoid the implication that Paul would have all elders honored by way of financial support.

It seems to me that the source of a lot of misunderstanding of this passage is the failure to keep distinct two different issues in the text. Those two issues are the issue of financial honor and the issue of diverse elders.

2. Doesn’t this imply that the supported elders of the church should be drawn only from those who are elders and already ruling well?

Here someone has latched on to the fact that Paul says that double honor is for those who are already ruling well. Does this mean, then, that it is wrong to give double honor to anyone who does not have some experience already as an elder? Does it mean that it is wrong for a church to call and immediately support a man right out of seminary who has never been an elder? I have several comments on this.

First, it is certainly a valuable thing for any man who would labor full­time as an elder to grow into that responsible position by working, if possible, as a part-time elder first. If the text did, indeed, imply that this was necessary it would not be so awful an implication. It might save the church of Christ a lot of grief.

Second, in fact, however, the text does not imply any such thing. The text makes a positive statement. It commands that well-ruling elders be considered worthy of double honor. The text does not make a negative statement. It does not say that only well-ruling elders may be remunerated by the church. He does not say that the church may not support widows, church secretaries, or even men who are not elders. He does not even say that no one else is worthy of generous financial support.  The positive statement does not necessarily infer the negative prohibition. Double honor well-ruling elders does not itself logically imply double honor no one else. Thus, the text does not teach that others may not be worthy of generous, financial support.

Third, Paul is in all likelihood addressing a situation which was to some extent wrong and in need of correction. Remember that he had to correct a tendency in the previous verses too broadly to support widows. Now it is likely in our text that he is correcting a tendency too inadequately to support well-ruling elders. It is very possible that well-­ruling elders were, in effect, working two jobs in order to serve the church and also feed their families. It is also possible that well-ruling elders were being supported inadequately—at a rate which was more akin to widow’s support than double honor. Thus, Paul may be correcting neglect on the part of the church in Ephesus. If this is the case, it is possible that he would have said that such men should have been supported so soon as they became elders because their excellent gifts and graces and usefulness were already manifest. Thus, there is absolutely no reason to think that Paul is requiring a man to work as a non-supported elder before he is supported.

3. Does this passage imply a three office view of the church with pastors or ministers, elders, and deacons?

I ask this question because this passage comes the closest of any passage in the New Testament to justifying a distinction between elders and pastors. It does distinguish between all the elders, the well-ruling elders, and those who labor in the Word. It would be easy to see this last group as the so-called pastors or ministers.

Still this passage clearly does not teach the so-called three-office view of the church. The only official designation found in it is “elder”. When Paul comes to speak of those who are potentially or actually vocational pastors, that is to say, supported ministers of the Word, he gives no special title to that privilege or function. He speaks only of “elders who rule well” and “those who work hard at preaching and teaching”. The implication of this is that there is no official distinction between elders and vocational pastors or ministers of the Word.

4. Doesn’t this passage imply a distinction between ruling and teaching elders?

This passage allows at best ambivalence about the terminology which distinguishes ruling and teaching elders. Sometimes we name and distinguish things by means of their dominant characteristics without intending to draw a hard and fast distinction. If this is all that someone means by this terminology there is no difficulty with what they mean by it. Clearly, there are in this text elders that are distinguished by being excellently ruling elders. Clearly, there are elders whose dominant characteristic is that they labor diligently in preaching and teaching. If we remember that despite these dominant characteristics, all elders must both rule and teach I have no problem.

On the other hand, this passage does not (strictly speaking) teach a distinction between ruling and teaching elders. Paul does not say some elders do not teach at all. If he had said this, he would have contradicted what he said in I Tim. 3:2 about all elders having to be “able to teach”. If the implication of the ruling/teaching elder distinction is that some elders only rule and do not teach, then this distinction is not taught in the passage. Furthermore, Paul does not say that some elders only teach, but do not rule. This would flatly contradict the whole thrust of the passage which is to the effect that those who work hard at preaching and teaching are found in the circle of those who rule well. We can only use the ruling elder/teaching elder distinction if we remind ourselves constantly that all elders both teach and rule, or they are not true elders.

Finally, this terminology is somewhat deficient because it does not adequately account for the diversity found in the passage. There is not a two-fold, but actually a threefold distinction found in this passage. The passage provides for what some would call a ruling elder to be a full-time or vocational pastor. The ruling/teaching elder distinction does not adequately account for the diversity of Paul’s conception.

B. Lessons to be Applied

Introduction:

All of the lessons mentioned here are built on one fundamental insight which is brought out clearly by this passage. That insight is that there is such an officer in the church which may be called a non-supported or non-vocational pastor. In other words, not all pastors of the church need to be either actually or potentially supported, full-time preachers. Some pastors are “ruling elders” (if the phrase is properly defined). We have seen this reality in a number of ways. First, we have seen that Acts 20:33-35 clearly implies that most or all of the numerous elders at Ephesus originally worked with their own hands and were not supported (certainly not on a full-time basis) by the church. Second, we have seen that the phrase, well or excellently ruling elders in 1 Tim. 5:17 contains an implicit contrast not with badly ruling elders, but with the rest of the qualified elders.  1 Tim. 5:17 is silent about the subject of such elders being honored or supported, and it clearly restricts double honor to excellently ruling elders. Third, by use of the word especially (in the phrase, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching) Paul focuses the financial support of the church upon those elders especially gifted at the public ministry of the Word. Practically, this would have the effect that some excellently ruling elders–though considered worthy of double honor—would not actually be supported by the church. The priority for the financial support of elders which Paul states here has the effect by itself of creating a class of elders frequently not supported by the church. Fourth, if such excellently ruling elders were supported it would not be because they are professional or vocational preachers. In itself this proves that an eldership need not be composed only of vocational or professional ministers of the Word.

  1. This implies that great diversity of gift, function, and support is permissible and even normal among the qualified pastors of a church. The eldership Paul conceives in 1 Tim. 5:17 consists of three concentric circles of men: all elders, all well-ruling elders, and all the well-ruling elders who work hard at preaching and teaching.
  2. This implies that elderships should not be restricted by the church to supported preachers. It implies that ability to function as a supported preacher is not a biblical qualification for the eldership. It requires that a church repent of requiring such a qualification if indeed it make such demands on potential elders. If a mature church has only supported preachers as elders, it could be an indication of wrong attitudes and/or understanding in the church.
  3. This implies that a larger church may occasionally support an elder who does not “work hard at preaching and teaching”, but exercises a valuable and excellent ministry in other respects.
  4. This implies that the elders which a church views as worthy of double honor and commits itself actually to support should be supported amply or generously and be given much more than (double) the basic financial sustenance given to a widow.
  5. This implies that there is a distinction found in our text between vocational pastor and a non-vocational pastor. Some elders rule well as compared to other qualified elders. These elders are to be viewed as worthy of double honor. According to the church’s ability they are to be amply financially supported so that they can work at their ministry full-time. This makes them vocational pastors. A man’s vocation should be determined (ideally) on the basis of what gifts and skills and opportunities God has given him. A man who rules well manifests that God has given him sufficient gift to pursue the pastorate as a vocation. So all well-ruling elders are potentially vocational pastors and all such who are actually given double honor are actually vocational pastors.

Clearly, then, there is a distinction in the eldership between those who are qualified pastors, and even well-ruling elders, and those who are vocational pastors-supported by the church to pursue the pastoral ministry full-time. Again, the implication is plain. A church and eldership which has only vocational pastors is a very unusual and abnormal church and eldership in New Testament. Potential to be a vocational pastor must not be made a qualification for the eldership.

Appendix: THE USE OF HONOR IN 1 TIM. 6:1 AND 2 AND ITS IMPACT ON THE MEANING OF HONOR IN 1 TIM. 5:17

Having read the foregoing treatment of the meaning of honor in 1 Tim. 5:17, a discerning person might well ask this question: What about the use of honor in 1 Tim. 6:1 and 2?

1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against. 2 And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

You can see the concern of this question. It seems clear that in this text-especially verse 2 honor means respect. I argued on the basis of the context that honor does mean respect or esteem, but something of material value given as a token of esteem or respect. But here is a close contextual use of honor which seems to have the meaning respect. Does that not raise doubts about my explanation of honor in 1 Tim. 5:17? That is a good question, and to that good question I have four responses.

First, I want simply to remind you that we saw clear and conclusive evidence from both 1 Tim. 5:3-16 and 1 Tim. 5:18 that honor clearly means something of financial value.

Second, it must be remembered that 1 Tim. 5:3 is more closely related to 1 Tim. 5:17 than 1 Tim. 6:1. Both 5:3 and 5:17 are talking about those who are worthy of being honored by the church. 6:1 is talking about slaves honoring their masters, a much different subject.

Third, it is not true that honor in 1 Tim. 6:1 has nothing to do with something of material value. The service or labor which a slave renders to his master is of great, financial value to the master. Rendering such service which is of benefit to the master is one thing that Paul intends by saying that slaves should regard their own masters as worthy of all honor. Notice the words of verse 2: “let them serve them all the more because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.”

Fourth, there is a relationship between these three uses of honor in this context, but it is one which proves that honor in the first two occurrences means something of financial value. Notice the progression in 5:3, 5:17; and 6:1: honor, double honor, all honor. The phrase, all honor, in 1 Tim. 6:1 is used because Paul intends to broaden the meaning of honor in 1 Tim. 6:1 and 2. Previously, honor had meant something of material value. Now Paul adds to that meaning of honor, respect (v. 2). To the material honor, financial support, Paul adds the immaterial honor, respect. Hence, he speaks of “all honor.”

Does this contextual usage of honor, then, raise doubt about the explanation that honor means something of material value? No, far from it! Properly understood the use of honor in 1 Tim. 6:1 and 2 actually further confirms the idea that in the preceding context honor has essential and primary reference to something of material value given as a token of esteem or respect. The phrase, all honor, deliberately broadens the idea from something of material value to include the idea of respect.