Faith and Works

From Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii:

Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.


Is It Baptist To Be Multi-Site?

You are probably familiar with the term “multi-site” by now. Maybe your church has already gone to the model, or is considering it. Very simply put, multi-site refers to the concept of one church that meets in multiple locations. Twenty-five years ago, there were fewer than 25 such multi-site churches in North America. Today there are over 5,000! It is a relatively recent phenomenon, yet an increasingly popular strategy for reaching more people with the gospel.

Opening up another campus allows for growth that is usually quicker and more cost-effective than building bigger or sending people out to start something new. It is in many ways simpler and more streamlined. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can keep the same name, logo, website, 501(c)3 status, support staff, etc. Resources can be shared more readily. You can be more certain that your own “DNA” is being replicated.

I understand the appeal and practical benefits. There are many Baptists whom I respect that have gladly joined the multi-site movement, motivated by a genuine desire to penetrate lostness. But I’ve always had a lingering doubt about whether this method is entirely consistent with our Baptist principles, particularly that of local church autonomy.

Now you may be wondering why I don’t pose the question as, “Is it biblical to be multi-site?” It is because I don’t have space to make a full argument from Scripture. I am assuming that we are all Baptists here. And I am assuming that we are Baptists because we believe it is biblical. We are solidly convinced the Bible teaches that baptism is to be administered to believers only. And we believe that “a New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers” (The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article VI). Our views about credobaptism and congregational ecclesiology are the principal reasons why we are Baptist, and not Methodist or Presbyterian.

But while they may remain firm on the practice of baptism, Baptist practitioners of the multi-site model appear willing to compromise the autonomy of the local assembly. Each distinct location is not allowed the responsibility to receive and dismiss its own pastors and members. There is limited leeway given to determine the best programs and strategies for evangelism and discipleship. In many ways, the satellite congregations are bound by the decisions coming out of central headquarters.

When it comes to organizational structure and leadership in a multi-site operation, there may be one single pastor over all the campuses, in which case you have a hierarchy. How is this different than having a bishop? Or there might be a representative group of elders overseeing all the campuses, in which case you then have a presbytery. It seems to me that while the language may be “one church in multiple locations,” what you really have is a small denomination.

There are potential dangers in any system, but with multi-site, the pull towards empire-building and a cult of personality is extremely strong. There is also a temptation to trust in a franchise brand instead of the power of the Word and Spirit.

I can see how in true revival circumstances where massive amounts of people are being converted at once, a temporary multi-site solution might be needed. But I would rather see this as church planting in slow motion.

What all this means is that the task of pastors is not just to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), but also to commit what we know to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). We must be committed to raising up leaders from within our churches who could do what we do and be released from our authority to start other churches as the need arises. Hopefully these churches would retain a similarity and organic connection, without control or formal structural unity.

A growing number of like-minded yet independent congregations freely choosing to associate and cooperate together in mission…that sounds more Baptist (and biblical) to me.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.



Christ Alone

William Carey, the great missionary pioneer who translated the Bible into forty languages said this:

I am this day 70 years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on review of my life I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust; my direct and positive sins are innumerable, my negligence in the Lord’s work has been great, I have not promoted his cause, nor sought his glory and honor as I ought.  Notwithstanding all this, I am spared till now, and am still retained in his work.  I trust for acceptance with Him to the blood of Christ alone.

Letter to Jabez Carey, in James Culross, William Carey (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1882), 208.


We Crave Something Beyond Our Biology

I don’t usually list Andy Stanley as one of my theological heroes or ministry role models, but his recent defense of monogamy in TIME magazine is brilliant:

Cassette tapes are obsolete. Monogamy is more like an endangered species. Rare. Valuable. Something to be fed and protected. Perhaps an armed guard should be assigned to every monogamous couple to ward off poachers. Perhaps not.

The value a culture places on monogamy determines the welfare of its women and children. Women and children do not fare well in societies that embrace polygamy or promiscuity. In the majority of cases, sexual freedom undermines the financial freedom of women. Sexual freedom eventually undermines the financial and emotional security of children.

If we are only biology, none of the above really matters. All’s well that ends with the survival of the species. If we are only biology, monogamy was probably a flawed concept from the start. But very few of us live as if we are only biology. I’m not sure it’s possible. We constantly refer to “our bodies”—an acknowledgement that we are more than “bodies.” Apparently, there is an “I” in there somewhere, an “I” that desires more than another body with which to ensure the survival of the species. As a pastor, I’ve officiated my share of weddings and I’ve done my share of premarital counseling. I always ask couples why they are getting married. Survival of the species never makes the list.

The “I” and “You” that inhabit our bodies desire more than another body. We desire intimacy—to know and to be fully known without fear. Intimacy is fragile. Intimacy is powerful. Intimacy is fueled by exclusivity.

So, no, monogamy is not obsolete. It’s endangered. But so was the buffalo.  Perhaps we happily monogamous couples should relocate to Yellowstone.


Why I Prefer To Be Buried And Not Cremated

From Russell Moore’s new book Onward (Nashville: B&H, 2015), 61-62:

“Can’t I be resurrected from an urn as easily as I can from a casket?” they ask.  Of course.  That’s not the point.  God can resurrect me if my body is eaten by alligators, but I wouldn’t dispose of Aunt Gladys that way, shrugging and asking, “What does it matter?   See her in heaven.”  The way we treat the body is a sign of what we believe about the future.  The women around Jesus cared for his body, anointing it with spices, because it was him; they knew that the body is important because it will be part of the new creation, whether that resurrection happens in a matter of days or after billions of years of decay.  Christians respect the body because we believe our material bodies are part of God’s goal for us and for the universe.


Are You Called to Share the Gospel?

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, replied to those who said that they were not called by God by saying, ” ‘Not called,’ did you say?  ‘Not heard the call,’ I think  you should say.”  He continued:

Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull poor sinners out of the fir of sin.  Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitying wail for help.  Go and stand by the gates of Hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house, and bid their brothers, and sisters, and servants, and masters not to come there.  And then look the Christ in the face, whose mercy you profess to have got, and whose words you have promised to obey, and tell Him whether you will join us heart and soul and body and circumstance in the march to publish his mercy to all the world.

William Booth, The General’s Letters, 1885 (London: Salvation Army, 1890), 4-5.


Is Preaching Passé?

Here’s the unedited version of an article I wrote for the latest Illinois Baptist on the topic of preaching.

In his little book, The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash writes what every pastor has thought at some point – “Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve?  …Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”  Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything.  Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture.  Is preaching a thing of the past?

We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!”  During the era of the Baby Boomers preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.  Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined.  Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?

I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s word culminating in the gospel.  And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church.  Why?  We see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44).  That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive.  Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2Tim. 4:2).  But couldn’t the intent behind ‘preach the word’ be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time?  I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching.  But the method of preaching is critical.

We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s word.  In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching.  We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose.  The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing.  But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.

Plus, the medium is the message.  Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel.  If that slot in the weekly life of the church is conceived of as a time for merely teaching doctrinal truths, then a pure lecture format is probably not best.  We should experiment with different methods, be more Socratic, have opportunities for interaction, and be mindful of different learning styles.  If the goal is simply effecting a lifestyle change – how to be a better parent, how to manage finances, how to share your faith – then we should consider role playing exercises, skits, worksheets, and modeling.  But since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, then preaching will always be indispensable.

Preaching is not the only thing for the life and health of a church.  There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring, but preaching is an essential element.  The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use.  Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the word of God is being preached.

Charles Spurgeon said that God “has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers….  This shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.  I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”  May he do it again today!


Bring It Under the Blood of Jesus

From Francis Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 127-28:

     When I became a Christian, I realized that Christ’s blood was enough to cover my past sin.  By the same token, I can also know that it is enough to cover the sins I have committed since I awoke this morning.  From time to time I do something so bad that I realize that, if it depended on me, I would surely be lost again.  When those times come, I must realize that I can bring those things under the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, and that His blood is enough to cleanse me.  Then I can simply say thank you.  This is the source of peace in the Christian’s heart.  It isn’t just an emotional experience.  It doesn’t require sitting on a pillar or going to a Bible retreat every other weekend.  It’s the objective reality of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, applied to our present necessity in day by day, moment by moment cleansing.

Someone might ask, “How often can we do this?  How often can we claim forgiveness for these endless daily sins?”  We can do so as often as we need to.  When Peter asked Christ, “How often shall I forgive my brother?” Christ said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22).  If we humans are supposed to forgive each other that often, surely God’s forgiveness of us is infinitely greater.  How often should we ask His forgiveness?  As often as we need to!

Someone might object: Doesn’t this do discredit to the work of the Lord Jesus, to fall into temptation and an hour later to fall into the same temptation – and both times to “bring it under the blood of Jesus?”  Doesn’t this trivialize Christ’s work?  Quite the contrary, there is really only one thing that can minimize Christ’s saving work, and that is our failing to lay hold of it.


Should We Want It Any Other Way?

When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape.  That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century.  For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then – and only then – may we become truly strong in the Lord.  And should we want it any other way?  What do you think?

J.I. Packer, Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 53-54.


Slapped Upside the Head

What we have lost… is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory.

Barbara Brown Taylor, “Miracle on the Beach,” in her Home by Another Way (Boston: Cowley, 1999), 38.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers