Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

The dis-qualifications of an elder

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

It is with some trepidation that I wade into this issue, but recent events, both at a local church, and in Alex Grenier’s ongoing relationship with Calvary Chapel, have me thinking about this stuff at some length. I hope kind readers will bear with me; as always I’m not especially interested in whether one particular man or another should be a pastor, but rather I’m looking for guidelines when trying to pick a church that is a safe place for myself and my family.

As everyone knows, Paul the Apostle sent his traveling companions Timothy and Titus a couple of different places and then wrote to them giving instructions on the handling of elders and deacons in the local churches in the cities he sent them to. Those of us with a high view of Scripture typically derive our views on the qualifications of pastors, elders, and deacons from these instructions, and we typically dress up our views by calling them “biblical eldership” or some such.

When writing to Timothy Paul sets a very high standard for elders, including spiritual maturity, absence of various vices, managing his household, etc. In a later section Paul also gives Timothy instructions regarding money given to elders, and warns against being quick to judge elders. What Paul doesn’t do is outline the process or criteria for disqualifying an elder.

Some readers draw a bright line, saying that any elder who isn’t fully qualified is disqualified. See e.g. this article by Orthodox Presbyterian writer Archibald Alexander Allison [link]:

It is the church’s God-given duty to keep all unworthy men out of the office of ruling and teaching elder. Should a man already in office show himself unqualified for the office he holds, the church must be diligent to remove him from that office. In so doing the church will uphold the honor of Christ and insure that the church is edified unto greater peace, purity, and unity.

Not everyone draws the same conclusions. I was surprised, for example, to find in Jay Bakker’s book Son of a Preacher Man his claim that since God had called his father (televangelist and Assemblies of God preacher Jim Bakker) nobody was qualified to tell him he couldn’t return to the pulpit after he did his prison time.

I have on occasion seen a deacon board confront and fire a preacher because his wife left him and wouldn’t return. I’ve also seen Paul’s later instructions “do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” used as a way to discredit mounting accusations against a pastor because none of the anecdotes had two or three independent witnesses.

If I had to stake a out a position here, I would be inclined to say that since the Scripture doesn’t say clearly how to handle the difficult problem of removing a preacher (yes, note the equivocation between the ancient “elder” and the modern “preacher”), then

  1. There’s a great deal of liberty to be had here
  2. It’s important to find out what position the church you’re attending takes, and what process they have in place for guaranteeing they will behave consistently with that position
  3. These verses serve as a prism of sorts, and the standard we use to interpret them often says more about the reader than about the text

That being said let me turn to the case of Bob Grenier, pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia [link]. His son Alex has accused him of physically abusing Alex and at least some of his brothers, including punching them in their heads, etc. These accusations are central to understanding Alex’s blog Calvary Chapel Abuse [link]. After having read a fair amount of Alex’s blog over the years, I have to say I find Alex’s accusations credible. I don’t think he’s lying; I don’t think he’s mistaken; I don’t think he’s exaggerating. Having decided that Alex is credible I have to choose one of two positions:

  1. It’s okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years. Or
  2. It’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.

Because honestly if there’s nothing wrong with hitting children then there are no more questions here about whether Bob Grenier is fit to be in the pulpit.

This is not a subject the Scriptures treat  in great detail either; the proverbs about “sparing the rod” notwithstanding. There’s more going on in the Grenier situation than simple disagreements over disciplining children, anyway.

But on balance I would have to say no; it’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.

I have focused on this particular accusation for a reason: Paul the Apostle singles out physical violence as being off-limits for an elder. This gets rendered “not violent” in the ESV and “no striker” in the KJV; I do occasionally see people attempt to interpret this prohibition as being a description of temperament (as if “not violent but gentle” were just a poetic way to say “really gentle”) but I can’t find a good reason not to take it literally: a violent man shouldn’t be installed as an elder.

Also, and this is more of a personal opinion, I have to suggest that if a man has two or more adult children making serious public accusations against him, he isn’t “managing his household well” (ESV) or “ruling well his own house” (KJV).

I have to argue that if I were responsible for ordaining Bob Grenier, and I knew these things about him, I would be failing my responsibilities if I ordained him.

Now if I read the tea leaves here (starting at say [link]) it looks to me like Chuck Smith has decided that he isn’t going to do anything about Bob Grenier and nothing is going to change his mind. And there isn’t, apparently, anything in the Calvary Chapel way of doing church that can or will do anything about Bob Grenier.

I don’t know what it means about Calvary Chapel that Bob Grenier is still in the pulpit, but I would encourage thoughtful readers to find out more before committing any time, money or energy to a Calvary Chapel. It says a lot; I’m just not sure what.

Of course like a lot of things about Calvary Chapel this will probably get revisited when Chuck dies and the new regime, whoever they are, take control. I for one hope they will clarify this aspect of church leadership for the benefit of those of us who love Calvary and wish them well.



“the pastor as prophet, priest, and king”

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Every pastor has a mental model of the pastorate that he considers normative. Some pastors have a well-defined, explicit model they can describe to you in clear sentences; others take more intuitive approach and decided case by case and instance by instance whether a particular task is their right or responsibility. I’ve even met some pastors who behaved as if everything they saw represented God’s calling on their lives in some sense, so that nothing was beyond their job description.

In contemporary evangelicalism the abstract concept of leadership is pretty popular; John Maxwell, for one, has made a career out of talking about the Bible as some sort of leadership manual, and suggesting that Jesus is the perfect role model for modern leaders. I’ve also heard preachers explicitly claim a right to a “Moses Model” of leadership; and I’ve often heard preachers lay claim (typically implicitly) to a Pauline leadership model, suggesting somehow that they were the prophetic voice speaking to a bunch of barely-Christian pew-sitters with a relationship like Paul the Apostle had to say the Corinthians.

But I rarely hear a preacher lay claim to the offices of Christ; I occasionally hear metaphorical near-nonsense like “our Mother the Church” but never “the Pastor our Savior.” So imagine my surprise when I heard about the recent article in the Orthodox Presbyterian publication New Horizons with the title above. It was written by someone named Jeffrey A. Landis, and it’s the cover article of the July-August 2011 issue [link].

Having read the article I am tempted to conclude that Landis is just being sloppy; the article is really about how a pastor’s job includes preaching, caring for people, and administrative duties, and Landis grabbed for an apt metaphor that sounded nice, added a weak introduction with this awkward transition

The Shorter Catechism reminds us that Christ, as our mediator, executes the offices of prophet, priest, and king (SC 23). Since pastors are Christ’s representatives, serving as undershepherds of their flock, it is helpful to think of their calling in terms of the same three categories. I have found that I cannot be a faithful pastor if I am not actively involved in all three areas.

And called it a day. And for whatever reasons the editor (Danny E. Olinger), managing editor (James W. Scott), editorial assistant (Patricia Clawson), and editorial board decided not to exercise any editorial options that involved making him rewrite the piece so it didn’t sound like it appropriates the Offices of Christ Himself for your rank and file OPC pastor.

It is a popular and common practice among those of us who try to both think like moderns and believe like Christians to use short but serious-sounding truisms, to wit:

  • “Words Mean Things”
  • “Theology Matters”
  • “What You Win Them With Is What You Win Them To

And we use these truisms as if they were both obvious and important. We treat them almost as incantations against liberalism, or modernism, or whatever.

So let me offer Landis’s article at the link above as a counterexample. Either words don’t mean things as neatly as we would like, or the folks at New Horizons really can’t tell the difference between an administrator and a King.

the gifts passages as pastoral prism

I’m going to make a hash of this, but I’m going to give it a try anyway.

As I mentioned recently, I got to spend a big chunk of a week on the south end of Maui listening to a Calvary Chapel radio station (KLHT in Honolulu). One of the great things about listening to a Calvary station all day long is that because Calvary has some sort of institutional commitment to teaching through the entire Bible not every sermon will be “another great sermon from Romans 8;” there’s a chance you’ll hear someone try to make sense of Leviticus or Lamentations. I actually heard two different pastors working on different parts of the Mosaic Law, with varying success.

The downside, of course, is that you may hear the text mishandled.

I heard so many sermons that I can’t say who the pastor was, and that’s my shortcoming, because I wish I had the audio to double-check my impressions. Instead I just had my traveling companion’s assessment of what I’m about to relay to you. Pray forgive me.

The source text was one of the Pauline passages on spiritual gifts (so it would have had to have been in Romans, 1 Corinthians, or Ephesians [link]) and the speaker was contrasting among other things between “teaching” and “helps,” so probably not Ephesians. And I noticed that when he talked about gifts he considered himself to have, or gifts he considered the domain of the pastoral office (teaching, exhorting, leading, administration) his illustrations were long and lush, and revolved around himself or another pastor he personally knew. When he talked about the other gifts (prophecy, miracles, tongues, serving, giving, mercy, helps) the illustrations were short, to the point, underimagined, and in the case of the more supernatural gifts, historical. Oh and: the use of the gifts in the latter category were without fail for the benefit not of the people in the local church, nor for the people in the surrounding community, but for the organization of the church itself. Especially the ones that could be interpreted to involve giving money.

Let me be clear: I understand the risks involved with opening up a discussion on spiritual gifts, inviting people in the pews to express themselves, etc. I understand that many churches have histories rife with chaos surrounding strong-willed people who decided they had a spiritual gift and took an opportunity to make a power play on that basis. And I understand the fact that Calvary, especially given its organizational distinctives and folk tales of elders and carpets is especially likely to produce pastors who see themselves has being the only people in the local church with a worthwhile spiritual gift.

But I might humbly suggest that the way Paul the Apostle presents gifts functioning within the church, a pastor who is most threatened by other people’s gifts, least appreciative of them, and least experienced with successful churches with gifts being expressed somewhere other than the pulpit, that pastor should be watched most carefully when he handles a text like this.

I wish I could say “if your pastor says X you need to leave” but of course very little is ever that clear cut. But I think I would say something along the lines of “if your pastor thinks he’s the only one with a spiritual gift, consider yourself warned.”

Where are all the Calvinist converts?

April 26, 2011 29 comments

I’ve been running short on blogging material recently, not because there’s nothing to blog about, but because so little of it has really crystallized for me. We’ve had a houseguest lately who has been talking about art in the Church; I’ve been reading Rob Bell and revisiting a lot of Emerging Church themes; some local churches are going through contortions; and I’ve been struggling with today’s topic.

If I had to make a list of interesting (not to say troubling, necessarily) trends in the American church today, I’d probably have to list the following, in pretty much this order:

  1. The decline of foreign missions
  2. Prosperity theology
  3. The perils of political engagement
  4. The megachurch phenomenon
  5. The decline of the Baby Boom generation and the rise of second-generation big-ministry leadership
  6. The Reformed resurgence
  7. The Emerging Church

So I guess I’d argue that what I have to talk about today isn’t the most interesting thing going on right now, but it is sometimes one of the easiest to see.

When I attended a Calvary Chapel I saw people come and go, but there were identifiable trends in the ways people entered the church and the ways people left. There were some new converts coming in; some of them had a by-the-numbers saved-from-sin born again experience; some of them left the Roman Catholic Church. There were also people who had stopped off somewhere else that offered simpler teaching and/or a more structured environment; we had a lot of people who had attended Potter’s House or had been through the mill at various local 12-step programs.

But people tended to leave Calvary because they were looking for one of two things: either they were looking for a more experiential Christianity, and they left for some sort of Third Wave Pentecostal or TBN-like church, or they moved in a more Reformed direction. At the time I credited the former to Calvary’s mild Charismatic leanings and familial relationship with Vineyard Christian Fellowships; the latter to the otherwise inexplicable presence of John MacArthur on the Calvary radio station in Albuquerque (KNKT). The truth is probably more complicated.

But the pattern then, and the pattern I see now as the Reformed resurgence progresses, was pretty predictable: people became Christians in an evangelical church, then eventually migrated to a more Calvinist church. Or as is the case here locally, people became Christians in evangelical churches, and then the churches themselves gradually moved in a more Reformed direction.

The thing that strikes me odd nowadays, though, is that when I meet someone nowadays, online or in person, who self-identifies as Reformed, they invariably have an “I used to be evangelical too” story. I have yet to meet anyone who became a Christian in a Reformed church unless they were raised there.

This question surfaced in a recent episode of The Dividing Line [link], where the ongoing feud between James White and George Bryson of Calvary Chapel Church Planting Mission (CCCPM) finally reached this question. Of course Bryson frames it his way and White frames it his way, and I’m not sure either of them offer more light than heat. Bryson incorrectly equivocates between all of Reformed theology and the Five Points of Calvinism; White objects but doesn’t clarify how exactly conversion (not to say salvation) happens in Calvinism.

I don’t have a soundbite here; it’s entirely possible that the world is fairly awash in Calvinists who are newly-converted Christians and I’ve just never met any of them, I suppose.

Frank Turk vs. Michael Horton

February 19, 2011 5 comments

I’m not a fan of Frank Turk; I think he’s condescending and occasionally mean-spirited, and I generally find the tone of the Pyromaniacs blog to be self-congratulatory and sarcastic (yeah yeah: pot/kettle/black), and his ongoing “open letters” series to be beyond the pale.

So intellectual honesty requires that I own up to this: I think he’s on to something in his open letter to Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn and other outlets [link]. Turk’s post really could have been edited for brevity and clarity; if I had to do it I might just have pulled this quote:

There is much to be gained from the Law/Gospel, imperative/indicative distinction in Scripture, but not everything is resolved by it. And one of the things which is not resolved by it is what manner of people the Gospel makes us – which is actually part and parcel of the Good News.

This could partly be summarized as “there’s not just Law and Gospel; there’s also sanctification.” Or words to that effect. I’d recommend reading the whole article and the comments at the link above; it’s a mix of “good Frank Turk” and “bad Frank Turk” and is worthwhile even for those of us who read him rarely and as such are tempted to scorn.

The Trinity, before and after the Reformation

February 17, 2011 2 comments

I want to share with you the sermon I heard his past Sunday at Christ Church in Santa Fe [flash, mp3]. It’s available temporarily at the official former link; I’ve cached a copy (also temporarily) at WordPress and will happily take it down if asked. I couldn’t figure out how to live link an archival mp3 at the source.

This is the church I attend when I’m in town and don’t have other commitments; this sermon is fairly typical in structure and flow relative to the ones we’ve heard in the last couple of years. The Scripture readings have been omitted from the audio. Nearly every week there is a crystalline moment in Martin Ban’s sermon where he says something that I haven’t heard before, or says something in a way I haven’t heard before, that I suspect is a work of inspiration, revelation, or sheer hard work.

The leadup to the moment in this sermon starts about nine minutes in, when he turns his attention to the Trinity as expressed in Ephesians 1:3-14. Listeners short on time are encouraged to skip the exploration of Steely Dan lyrics in the opening section prior to 9:00 or so. He delves into what Paul is up to, Paul’s relationship to the church at Ephesus, etc. to reach the main text at about 13:00. The point, as he sees it, is that Paul is telling us that God’s gift to us is Himself, and our relationship with Him.

He also attempts to unravel some aspects of predestination of free will; I can’t tell you whether he succeeds. He also covers one of the compulsory forms in Trinitarian theology: Augustine’s explanation of the Persons of the Godhead giving themselves to one another. There’s also some elaboration on the word oikonomos. As best I can tell this is all orthodox, at least from a conservative Presbyterian/PCA perspective.

The moment comes at about 22:00, where he contrasts the various creeds before the Reformation with the positions of the Roman Catholics and the Protestants after the Reformation, where the Catholics focus on the Magisterium and the various Protestant Confessions focus on the authority of Scripture. He says, essentially, that the central relationship of Christianity, as emphasized in the creeds, gets demoted to second behind the authority of either the Church or the Scriptures.

I am not entirely sure he offers a solution to this problem, but I appreciate seeing the tension pointed out. It is as they say food for thought and grounds for further research.


Psalm 105

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I got a comment last week that for multiple reasons didn’t qualify under this blog’s comment policy, so it won’t be seeing the light of day, but it included a warning to “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” I sometimes go years without hearing this and had almost forgotten that people appropriate a phrase from Psalm 105 this way. Let me first show you the Psalm, in the KJV because I like how it reads:

O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants. He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen. They shewed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham. He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word. He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish. Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings. He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts. He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land. He smote their vines also and their fig trees; and brake the trees of their coasts. He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number, And did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground. He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength. He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes. Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them. He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night. The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness: And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people; That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD.

Let me be gentle and reverential in handling the text here and point out that

  1. The form here is poetic; the main body of the text is meant to be sung.
  2. The audience is Jewish; it is addressed to people who are children of Abraham through Jacob.
  3. The body of the text is a description of historical events.
  4. The main theme is God’s specific provision for the nation of Israel, particularly through Joseph and Moses.

The anointed here in the bolded section are the ones wandering; they aren’t special people within the nation of Israel.

If someone wants to appropriate this text to their own benefit they need to deal with several issues first:

  1. Why and how the poetic form here should be taken literally
  2. Why the descriptive text should be considered prescriptive or proscriptive
  3. Why this text should deal with them at all; particularly, why they should be the wanderers protected by God against the pagan kings, and not say the other way around, and why a passage about Jewish national history has anything to do with them.

This isn’t even one of those “if your pastor thinks he’s Moses watch out for his Kadesh” warnings. Seriously: if your pastor wields this passage as a warning not to question him, especially regarding matters of money, please ask yourself why you’re there.

Also, it may be helpful to ask why Paul’s warning to the believers at Colossae against people who say “touch not” shouldn’t apply here. Just saying.