The Stage of Confusion

There comes a point in learning a language (probably more than once) where you’ve had too much and it all swims. After starting out fast on Wheelock’s, I’ve been brought to a slow crawl. I need to do some revision and consolidation.

But the GRE is next week. I need to study for that.

Again.

For a while.

So dreary. I’ve done a whole book on the GRE. What I really need to do is memorize these basic math concepts. Maybe I can cram the morning of. I have the test at noon.

Speaking of dreary, today Apple unvelied a new . . .
. . .
. . .
. . . telephone.

And a watch.

And all the world advertises it for them. It has to be one of the silliest events of our day. Future generations will look back on it as an oddity. Obviously trendy.

And speaking of trendy, we are having a Sunday school quarter on evangelism. I learned that there are ministers in the OP (as within the OPC it is fondly called) who actively discourage members from engaging in personal evangelism. Which struk me as . . . not fashionable nowadays, so I asked and was assured it was so. Not that they don’t encourage them to, but that they say: leave it to the experts. I love the OP. NOT TRENDY. I wish I were a presbyterian.

But I’m an RB. I think that’s what I’m always going to be. I’ve been an RB for years now.

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4 thoughts on “The Stage of Confusion

  1. Can you expound more on this . . . de-emphasis on personal evangelism? It’s quite strange to one of my personal churchly history. Although it’s not as if I’m an avid door knocker. I do feel a responsibility though. Manufactured?

  2. First let me explain the OP. In the OP you have ordination. Ordination is a formal process by which the church (denomination, in this case) recognizes that the Holy Ghost has called a man to the ministry of the gospel. In the OP you go through this process, which I don’t have all clear but includes: being recommended by people in leadership, being licensed by a competent body, passing exams in various areas, serving over a period of time in a congregation, receiving a call from a congregation within a certain time from being licensed, and finally being ordained. At some stage, you are allowed to call what you’re doing in the pulpit preaching, but it isn’t really preaching until you are ordained. They call it exhortation, and you can’t start a service with an Apostolic greeting (Grace to you, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ–or some other apostolic salutation) or offer at the end an Apostolic benediction till you’re ordained either, or minister the sacraments. So that it is very clear when a service takes place, with or without communion, who a minister of a gospel is. You can have people lead worship and exhort, but even an elder cannot do that salutation or benediction, and if he preaches, it is technically an exhortation. What it does is set apart the work of a minister, and mark it as special, and safeguard the office. I personally think it is grand and much great good. And it is Presbyterian, because their polity is kind of built around all that most solidly.

    So they elevate and consciously emphasize the elevation of the office. That greeting is the gospel, the sacraments only ministers handle proclaim the gospel, and in their thinking at least (not that they’d say anybody else doesn’t really really preach) ministers proclaim the gospel in the ministry of the word. That is a very minister-centric approach. And it is emphasized in their polity and in their book of order, and (even in their attitude about the real presence, because the supper for them is not simply a subjective memorial, but there is a real presence, though no transubstantiation; this bit may just confuse now, but may illumine later when I speak of preaching).

    So when you’re thinking about the OP and evangelism, that’s important. Our associate pastor is in a way reacting to all that: they know it, he knows it, they remember it in seminary, in session meetings, in presbytery meetings which they have all the time, in general assemblies of the OP, on and on. But, he wants to say, it is valid for members to engage in personal evangelism and I want them to be equipped by me for that. Which is laudable.

    Second, you have to consider there is perhaps a more churchly attitude toward the great commission than perhaps commonly washes around. I first discovered this among Reformed Baptists. They’re not all this way, but if you look at the standard commentary on the 1684 2nd LBConfession of Faith, by Sam Waldron, you’ll see something interesting on the great commission. That is that the commission is a commission for the church, and the responsibility for it rests not on the individual but on the corporate church. And it makes sense: you cannot observe all things Jesus commanded without order, discipline and membership, if for no other reason than in the same book of Matthew our Lord himself taught us about church discipline. One of the things church discipline implies is membership. And the point of it all is order. You have to have polity and membership and in short a well ordered church to carry out the great commission. People don’t just go out and do the work, the church does. Churches plant churches (and in the case of the OP, denominations start churches, and the work of the great commission rests on the denomination, because denomination = church). Reformed Baptists of my acquaintance do not just plant churches, they send someone out under the care of the elders of a church overseeing the planting of the new work, and they have regular meetings, the person is under the oversight of the group of pastors until the call for membership and official church gets started–not loosely associated.

    And I think this is the main issue to consider: on whom does the responsibility for the great commission rest? On the individual or on the body of the church (local, or if you have a denominational concept, that)? If the second, then my responsibility to the great commission is to be an active member in my local church, to be a part of the body, exercising my gifts therein.

    If it is the individual, then you have evangelicalism. Ok, it isn’t quite that simple, but perhaps you begin to get the idea.

    Third, what is evangelism? I myself believe it is primarily preaching and sacrament: things you do in church. Some OP ministers believe it is what ministers do, and they’re set apart for that exclusively, so it is their special domain (leave it to the experts). Most OP minsters believe it is something special for minsters, but in which the rest participate in their own informal way as long as they’re part of the church.

    Now my view is considered mild to medium heresy in the contemporary landscape, I realize (I’m not against sharing or extracurricular activities, but I say with Martyn Lloyd-Jones and a shrug: yeah, but it’s not preaching). That’s because the assumption is that evangelism is primarily sharing, done informally, outside of the church, with guitars, sitting on the floor, blah, blah, blah. I feel toward ‘evangelism is sharing’ the same way I feel about gospel songs (I think they’re similar phenomena). But I used to have no argument against it, not till I became an RB. And even then, when I was preaching in Colombia, I would proclaim the gospel in the pulpit with awkwardness because I was not convinced that was evangelism, sharing was. But God’s appointed means is the foolishness of preaching. I believe we now live in a time of the church where when most people think about preaching in terms of evangelism that it is foolishness. It is not what you do, not what you elevate, not what you trust, not what you pour your labor and prayers toward, not what will work.

    But I don’t think that is what the Bible teaches. And I am no longer ashamed, by the way. I love to preach the gospel.

    In fact, the Bible is very clear about preaching and the gospel. When Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel he is saying he wants to stand in the pulpit in Rome and preach to the congregation there. Why, Paul? Why are you eager to go to Rome and to those congregations? Because he is not ashamed of the gospel, and preaching is a supernatural event like no other. He was talking about preaching. In church. With believers. Which is not to say that’s the only place, but just point out the context for that oft used text. (And it is good to remember when we consider what he says: he was an apostle; he said and did things you can’t hold the average believer to because of his special calling; and in the case of ministers that also has things that apply–just another thing to keep in mind).

    Spurgeon once wrote a book about winning souls, or maybe it is called The Soul Winner, I don’t remember. The soul winner is the preacher. Preaching is the main evangelistic activity of the church, in his view. What does he say in his chapter on congregational participation? Two things: 1 – talk to the person next to you about the sermon. 2 – pray, especially for the preacher. And it shows me the churchly emphasis. Participate in your church as a member. Support the event, support the preacher by praying, attend the moment when God’s real presence is made known in the proclamation of the word, believe it. We are not good preachers of the gospel because we don’t believe it. We don’t believe in the power of the event, in God’s real presence, in church order for carrying out the great commission, in the importance of being called and ordination for recognizing that, in the fact that God knows what we need to do and we don’t need to come up with tricks and do more ‘sharing’. In short, I wonder that when there is browbeating it speaks more about the failure of ministers than of members not knocking on doors and thrumming up more evangelistic activity and passing out tracts and handing out gospel movies. Maybe they need to preach better on prayer. Maybe they just need to preach better.

    Which is not to say don’t talk to other people, but is to say get serious about what God says and what he wants us to do. Don’t be more serious about sharing and passing out tracks and whatever busy and activist detritus our unfortunate evangelical moment raises above God’s program. Don’t believe that preaching is some curious and frankly outdated thing that serves obscure in-church purposes. IT IS GOD’S WAY. If you’re not the preacher, pray for the preacher and pour all your zeal into that evangelistic effort. Then do the rest afterward if you still have time.

    And whatever else the OP is, because of how it is set up, they are zealous for God’s program and God’s order.

    And I think the ideas of informality and formality, reverence and awe and casualness, are not unrelated to the whole evangelical mix.

  3. You should bring this to your front page.

    Makes sense, and comports with where my personal reformation seems to point as well as a discussion of Eph 4 in Hart’s With Reverence and Awe.

    Helpful. Thanks.

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