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Evangelism: the Message

Definition

Evangelism is the human means by which God brings men out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). People in sin are lovers of darkness, and dig deeper and deeper. How is he to be lifted up and translated into the light? It’s by evangelism. That’s the divinely appointed device.

—John Gerstner

To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.

J.I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God

Packer makes an important point: we cannot define evangelism based on effect. Are we not evangelizing unless someone converts? We can’t define evangelism based on the desired effect, solely because we cannot guarantee the effect. Packer says, “Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of faith is God’s.”

Anyone who delivers God’s message of mercy to sinners, under any circumstance, is evangelizing.

Doctrine and Content of Evangelism:

The theology is at the same time the message of evangelism.

You must get the message right. That’s why we start with the message. I’m not going to assume you actually know the Gospel; that you actually know correct doctrine.

We think it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get all the details right, as long as we are zealous. It is easy to subordinate the message to the mission, the evangel to evangelism, as if being busy with outreach could trump the content of what we have been given to communicate.

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (p. 23). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Message of Evangelism is Not . . .

Michael Horton says ours is “an age of “mission creep”—that is, a tendency to expand the church’s calling beyond its original mandate.”

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (p. 16). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message is not your story. (AKA “personal testimony”)

A lot of our talk about “getting saved” in evangelical circles focuses on the day that we did something: we invited Jesus into our heart, said a prayer, went forward, or otherwise evidenced a decisive conversion experience. However, this shifts the concentration from the gospel itself (Christ’s saving work) to our experience of the gospel. We are commanded to believe the gospel, but the gospel itself is an announcement concerning Christ’s all-sufficient achievement for us.

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (pp. 29-30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message is not “Jesus wants to be your friend.” No joke, I actually heard an “evangelistic message” where the person said “Jesus is sending you a friend request.” Appalling.

The message is not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” First, God doesn’t love everybody. And you’ll only know if God loves you if he grants you repentance and faith. The Apostles in Scripture never said this to people, by the way (that should give us a hint). Secondly, his plan is wonderful, but your experience of it might not be wonderful. If you become a Christian, you may have to suffer or even die (case in point: the Apostles). Or, if you remain an unbeliever, God’s plan for you is that you suffer eternal punishment, to the praise of his glorious justice. It’s a “wonderful plan for your life”, just not wonderful to you.

The message is not “God will make you successful, rich, and healthy.” Jesus is not the answer to your financial problems. That’s called the “prosperity gospel”, and it is a false gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not health, wealth, and prosperity. The message of the gospel is not that you’ll have a “better” life. It is better, but not by the world’s standards.

The message is not even “God wants you to be happy.” True happiness is certainly a by-product of salvation in Christ, but not what we pursue. As C.S. Lewis said, I didn’t need God to make me happy, I always knew a bottle of port would do that. . . If you seek happiness you won’t find it, but if you seek God, you’ll get God and happiness included.

The message is not love God and love your neighbor. That’s the Law, not the Gospel. It’s nothing less than a summary of the moral law, comprehended in the Ten Commandments. That Law, according to the Apostle Paul, shows us our need for a Savior. Christ did not come merely to repeat the law’s demand to us, but to fulfill it and obey it, in our place, and die for our transgression of it.

The message is not liberation from oppressive social systems. This means that “evangelism” is not community service, social work, political activism, or humanitarian activities (as practiced by Liberals and confused Presbyterians). Each time you are preaching social work or community service, you are not preaching the only news that saves. Those other things aren’t even news, anyway. Jesus didn’t need to die and resurrect to summarize the moral law, or to tell people to love each other. The “social gospel” is a false gospel. And Liberation theology is a false theology.

On one hand, liberals see evangelism as only social work. On the other, fundamentalists see it as only saving souls.

—Joe Morecraft

When you hear people speak well of Jesus, listen carefully to see what they say about him. Many speak well of Jesus as a good man and say we should follow his example. But that’s not enough, and that’s not the gospel. Many speak well of Jesus as a holy teacher and say we should pay attention to him. But that’s not enough, and that’s not the gospel. Jesus came to meet our need. If he had left us only a good example, we could never have followed it. If he had left us only his holy teaching, we could never have lived by it. We are sinners who need a Savior. Jesus came to be that Savior. He is the Son of God who became man to die for the sins of his people and rise again.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 766

What is the Message?

“The message of evangelism is the whole counsel of God as revealed in His Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” (Biblical Evangelism: A Symposium; OPC)

Quick Application: if this is true, then evangelism should happen every Lord’s Day, in every sermon. There is no need to organize a special “evangelistic” service or “evangelistic” message in order to evangelize.

“All that is Promised Us in the Gospel”

The Heidelberg Catechism says,

21. Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is a sure knowledge

whereby I accept as true

all that God has revealed to us in his Word. 1

At the same time it is a firm confidence 2

that not only to others, but also to me, 3

God has granted forgiveness of sins,

everlasting righteousness, and salvation, 4

out of mere grace,

only for the sake of Christ’s merits. 5

This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart

by the gospel. 6

1.Jn 17:3, 17; Heb 11:1-3; Jas 2:19.

2.Rom 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb 4:16.

3.Gal 2:20.

4.Rom 1:17; Heb 10:10.

5.Rom 3:20-26; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-10.

6.Acts 16:14; Rom 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor 1:21.

(Notice our favorite word: all that God has revealed in his Word)

The first part of the “true faith” we must have is faith that the Bible is God’s Word and is true in every detail. We must know and believe that the Bible is not just any book, but the revelation of God’s truth.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 606

People want to believe that God loves and accepts everyone. This is not what the Bible teaches. The only people who are right with God are those who have faith in Jesus Christ, who is the only Savior God has given.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 566

 

22. Q. What, then, must a Christian believe?

A. All that is promised us in the gospel, 1

which the articles of our

catholic and undoubted Christian faith

teach us in a summary.

1.Mt 28:19; Jn 20:30, 31.

(What is the message of evangelism, that people are commanded to believe?)

23. Q. What are these articles?

A. I.

1. I believe in God the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.

II.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ,

his only-begotten Son, our Lord;

3. he was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary;

4. suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;

he descended into hell.

5. On the third day he arose from the dead;

6. he ascended into heaven,

and sits at the right hand

of God the Father almighty;

7. from there he will come to judge

the living and the dead.

III.

8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;

9. I believe a holy catholic Christian church,

the communion of saints;

10. the forgiveness of sins;

11. the resurrection of the body;

12. and the life everlasting.

24. Q. How are these articles divided?

A. Into three parts:

the first is about God the Father and our creation;

the second about God the Son and our redemption;

the third about God the Holy Spirit

and our sanctification.

That’s what one must believe. That is the message of evangelism. This is the content that we are proclaiming. It’s the Gospel, but it contains what the whole Word of God teaches. The Heidelberg Catechism then continues to expound on each article in the Apostles’ Creed.

For example:

26. Q. What do you believe when you say:

I believe in God the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth?

A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who out of nothing created heaven and earth

and all that is in them, 1

and who still upholds and governs them

by his eternal counsel and providence, 2

is, for the sake of Christ his Son,

my God and my Father. 3

In him I trust so completely

as to have no doubt

that he will provide me

with all things necessary for body and soul, 4

and will also turn to my good

whatever adversity he sends me

in this life of sorrow. 5

He is able to do so as almighty God, 6

and willing also as a faithful Father. 7

1. Gen 1 and 2; Ex 20:11; Job 38 and 39; Ps 33:6; Is 44:24; Acts 4:24; 14:15.

2.Ps 104:27-30; Mt 6:30; 10:29; Eph 1:11.

3.Jn 1:12, 13; Rom 8:15, 16; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5.

4.Ps 55:22; Mt 6:25, 26; Lk 12:22-31.

5.Rom 8:28.

6.Gen 18:14; Rom 8:31-39.

7.Mt 6:32, 33; 7:9-11.

That’s an evangelistic tool! In fact, teaching the Apostle’s Creed has always been the practice of the church in making disciples. It’s one of the things you were required to learn before you could profess faith in Christ and received baptism, in the early church.

We’ll get more into that later in the class.

We will now survey these Christian doctrines that are both the basis for evangelism and the content of evangelism.

Reading Assignment: Reformed Evangelism” by Morton Smith

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The Content of Evangelism & Discipleship

Content:

What is the content for disciple-making? What are we delivering, what are we sharing?

This is a very basic question to ask. By basic, I don’t mean easy, necessarily. I mean logically basic, or foundational. You’ve got to have this question answered first. Before you begin making disciples, you need to know what you are giving, what message, what content. What is the subject matter.

Another reason for this question being so important is all the different answers that are in the world today.

  1. Some say personal, life experience is what you are sharing with someone.
  2. Others say rules and behavior, to make someone conform to a certain lifestyle.
  3. Others say it is as broad as public education (anything you would learn in school is discipleship material).
  4. Some Christians imply that it is secret, or special knowledge that is transferred to disciples (in contrast to “normal” Christians).
  5. And some churches think of disciple-making more about practical than cognitive content: training, skills (like this obsession with “leadership” seminars that they seem to have).
  6. Fundamentalism has narrowed the content down to a list of “fundamentals” with a whole lot of rules about what activities you’re not allowed to do (drinking, dancing, movies, etc.).
  7. Liberalism has done away with doctrinal content and replaced it with community service, social work, and political activism.
  8. The program-driven churches see the “content” of disciple-making to be activity, or service. Kid’s programs, youth programs, fun and games, small group activities, small group Bible studies, prayer meetings, evangelistic outreaches. If you’re really growing, you’ll do things like set up the chairs The most spiritual activity of all: short-term missions trips. Sure proof that you are a mature disciple.
  9. And the individualists, who view disciple-making as purely personal and anti-institutional (apart from the local church), see the content as personal disciplines: personal prayer, personal Bible reading/study (aka “quiet time”), personal evangelism, and maybe some “fellowship” (whatever that means). Discipleship is all about teaching them these skills.

So, who is right? Well, some are more wrong than others. To find out what the content for disciple-making is, we need to look at Scripture. And many of those listed above cite Scripture (some less than others!). Of course, when it comes to justifying beliefs and practices, select parts of Scripture are not enough, but the whole breadth (tota Scriptura).

Word/Gospel

We will argue that the content for making disciples is the Word of God, in general, and the Gospel, in particular. Notice that I am not distinguishing between evangelism and discipleship; we are not separating them. The content for both is the same.

How do we think about the content of evangelism versus the content for discipleship, usually? We tend to separate the two practices, and say that the content is different for each. The Gospel is for evangelism, supposedly. And the rest of the Bible (but not the Gospel) is for discipleship. The Gospel is to get you into Christianity, then you move on from the Gospel to everything else the Bible says, for your discipleship.

Now, is this an accurate view? No.

Paul didn’t just talk about Jesus as he evangelized; he talked about creation, God’s decrees, the judgment (Acts 17:22-31). And in every letter he wrote to the churches (Christian disciples), he focused on the Gospel.

Evangelism and discipleship are not two different kinds of things. Rather, it’s the same subject matter, the same content, just in different situations or contexts; a different audience. If you’re talking to unbelievers, you are obviously evangelizing. If you are talking to believers, they are already disciples. But even there, with disciples, they still need the Gospel. We still need to be “evangelized” all through the Christian life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to both evangelism and discipleship. And the whole Word of God is the subject matter for discipleship and evangelism (at least implicitly).

*Why am I starting this way? Because I detect that it is not understood here, very well. Usually, I only hear the Gospel preached when it’s specifically targeted at unbelievers. But, if there’s only “church members”, the Gospel usually is not mentioned at all. So clearly, what unbelievers need to hear and what Christians need to hear are two different things.

But they should not be separated as to different kinds of things. They are distinct, but because of context; not distinct in content.

The Gospel cannot be understood on its own. The message about Jesus Christ fits within the larger redemptive context of the whole Bible. And you see this in the sermons preached in Acts. The whole Bible is the framework, the “covenantal context” in which the Gospel is interpreted.

So, in “evangelizing” to unbelievers, they need more than just a narrow “Gospel presentation.” They need broader instruction from the rest of Scripture to make sense out of the good news.

The Gospel is the climax, the center, whole point of the Bible. The Bible leads up to it, then expounds it. Jesus said that the entire Old Testament spoke about him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-48). That means, you are not actually teaching or preaching the Bible correctly if you leave the Gospel of Jesus Christ out.

So, in “discipling” believers, in teaching or preaching to Christians, the Gospel must be central! Every sermon must include the Gospel. The Gospel is the center of Scripture, so disciples cannot be taught from Scripture properly without the Gospel. Disciples constantly need to be reminded of the grace of God provided in Jesus Christ. That’s the primary motivation for obedience, in fact. Indeed, every text is implicitly a Gospel text. If it’s telling us to do something, then it’s Law that shows us how we fall short of God’s requirements, and shows us our need for Christ’s righteousness and death. If it is a grace text, then there’s the Gospel. In short, if we are not “evangelizing” disciples, we are not discipling correctly.

It should be clear, then, that the body of content for making disciples is the Word of God, in general, and the Gospel, in particular. Your audience will change (believers or unbelievers), but the content will not. What do we use to evangelize unbelievers? The whole Word of God. What do we use to disciple Christians? The Gospel. Both are true.

This explains why we will spend so much time on doctrine in this class.

Once more, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.1

(1) Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17

Notice how the Catechism doesn’t distinguish one part of the Word (the Gospel) for “convincing and converting”, and another part for “building them up.” It’s the whole Word of God that is made an effectual means of salvation, for the conversion of sinners and the edification of believers.

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did. This should shape our methodology of evangelism and discipleship.

Go back to the Great Commission: what was the second thing that the Lord Jesus command the disciples to do, to make disciples? Teach. And what did he say to teach, in order to make disciples?

“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20)

Notice that keyword: “ALL”. Not a few things. Not as little as possible. Not a bare minimum. Not a “mere Christianity.” Everything. Jesus’ commission is not a lowest-common-denominator approach. ALL!

Disciples are to be taught to obey all the words of Christ. That means the whole Word of God. All of it is the content for disciple-making. Nothing is to be left out. Clearly, the Apostle Paul understood this, declaring that:

. . . I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

. . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.

—Acts 20:20-21, 26-27

Paul did not hold anything back. He proclaimed anything profitable, and in public or private settings. He did not hold back any of God’s Word, from them. That’s why he is innocent. Everyone there has been given all the information, left without excuse. No one can point fingers at Paul, accusing him of not telling them everything that they needed to hear.

The same needs to be true of anyone engaging in making disciples. Anyone that shares God’s truth with unbelievers must hold nothing back. Anyone who shares God’s truth with believers must hold nothing back (including the Gospel).

Warnings:

  1. A Misunderstanding. Don’t misunderstand: this is not saying anything about time, or how long it will take. Don’t think this means you have to dump all of Scripture on someone every time you talk. Or if you had 20 minutes talking to an unbeliever, you should said “the whole counsel of God.” That’s not the point, here. The point is that evangelism and discipleship hasn’t been done if the whole Word of God hasn’t declared. Naturally, that should take a period of time. It’s a process. If you’ve only got 10 minutes with someone, then say what you can in 10 minutes. And pick up where you left off the next time you see that person. If, by God’s providence, you never see them again, that’s not your fault.
  2. An Excuse. Now, having said that, do not use that as an excuse to not teach the whole counsel of God. Yes, making disciples is a process. You simply cannot say everything all at one time. Though that is true, do not use that as an excuse for never declaring the whole plan of God, and for not proclaiming everything that is profitable, in public and from house to house. I heard this excuse recently. The idea was that we slowly instruct and teach, so that these people [unbelievers] learn and eventually obey the Bible. Sound good and right? Yes. But, these people have been here for years, and those who have learned the basics of Christianity are still are not obeying the basic things, and the others haven’t even learned the basics (see Heb. 5:12-14). So, the idea was correct. But I don’t believe that’s actually the intention, because I don’t see any evidence of it. It was just words, without actions. The fact that making disciples is a process can be used to justify laziness, dumbing down, “shrinking back” (contrary to Paul), and not “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” It must be our intention to obey Christ, like Paul did. And it will be obvious over the long term if we ever did intend to declare the whole counsel of God, or just pretended to.

All that has been said obviously means that whoever is making disciples needs to know the whole breadth of Scripture. Again, ALL. That is why we will survey a lot of doctrine in this class.

Thank God that we have tools to learn the whole counsel of God for ourselves, and in turn to help us in teaching all of Christ’s words to others.

Tools: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms.

Apostles’ Creed is a summary of the Gospel. Know that, and you know what you need to tell an unbeliever. Of course, you don’t leave them at that level, but it is a good starting point.

Voddie Baucham, on Confessions:

Christians have always been creedal/ confessional people. And these creeds and confessions have always served at least three purposes. First, confessions of faith serve to unite believers with their historical roots. This has been important since the time of the New Testament, when Paul wrote, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2: 2). Paul also admonished Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1: 13– 14). And again, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim. 3: 14).

The urgency of passing on this “pattern of sound teaching” did not end with the apostles or the New Testament church. This is the obligation of every Christian generation, and our confessions are an expression of our acceptance of that reality. I find it both ironic and disturbing that Christians want to (1) forsake confessionalism and (2) make disciples. The result of this is a kind of remaking Christianity over and over again. It’s a bit like having a commitment to training doctors without relying on what we’ve learned through years of practicing medicine. Certainly we must not be slaves to tradition. However, it is equally wrong to ignore tradition altogether. It’s one thing to try to improve on Gray’s Anatomy; but trying to write an anatomy textbook without relying on or referring to this influential work would be ridiculous.

Second, confessions served to clarify the distinct beliefs of various groups of Christians. For example, in the foreword to the Second London Baptist Confession, the authors wrote, “For the information, and satisfaction of those, that did not thoroughly understand what our principles were, or had entertained prejudices against our Profession.” Did you catch that? There were people who, for whatever reason, misunderstood what seventeenth-century Baptists believed, and the confession was designed, at least in part, to confront and correct those misconceptions. In other words, the confession was an apologetic!

Third, confessions serve as a standard and starting point for disciple making. As a father to nine children, I confess that the idea of bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6: 4) is overwhelming. The same is true for me as a pastor. I can’t imagine having to figure out where to start and what to teach.

Again, the foreword to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession is helpful:

And verily there is one spring and cause of the decay of Religion in our day, which we cannot but touch upon, and earnestly urge a redress of; and that is the neglect of the worship of God in Families, by those to whom the charge and conduct of them is committed. May not the gross ignorance, and instability of many; with the profaneness of others, be justly charged upon their Parents and Masters; who have not trained them up in the way wherein they ought to walk when they were young? but have neglected those frequent and solemn commands which the Lord hath laid upon them so to catechize, and instruct them, that their tender years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

Note that this is the foreword to a thirty-two-chapter minisystematic theology! The idea here is clear: We ought to use our confessions in the discipleship of our children as well as recent converts. This is a hallmark of the Reformed tradition, and we would do well to revive it.

—Baucham Jr., Voddie. Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word (Kindle Locations 1437-1464). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Appropriately, we will be using Confessions and Catechisms in this class! This will serve several purposes at once:

  1. You will be instructed by them. Surprise! You’re being discipled in “Evangelism & Discipleship” class. You will learn the doctrines that are foundational to evangelism and discipleship.
  2. You will learn the content of evangelism and discipleship, the subject matter that you need to communicate to unbelievers and believers.
  3. As an example. From experiencing this class, you will have learned how the Confessions and Catechisms can be used, and so you can use them yourself as tools for evangelism and discipleship. You have had it done to you, so now you know how to do it for others. Even if all you did was copy this class and use it, you would be doing well.

The Rest of the Class:

From now on, the class will be divided into two. We will finally be getting into Evangelism & Discipleship.

We’ll cover Evangelism, the doctrine and practice, then Discipleship, the doctrine and practice.

Now, I split the doctrine in two for pedagogical reasons. Even though, as I argued earlier, the content for both evangelism and discipleship is the whole Bible, for teaching purposes will divide it. We’ll survey the doctrine that’s more directly relevant to evangelism before talking about evangelistic methodology. Then we’ll cover the doctrine more directly relevant to discipleship, before covering discipleship in practice. Rather than cover all the doctrine, then forget half of it before getting to discipleship, will have it fresh in mind.

Some doctrine is more immediately relevant to evangelism: God’s decrees, sin, regeneration, justification and adoption, repentance and faith, Jesus and his offices as mediator.

Other doctrines are more immediately relevant to discipleship: sanctification, the church, sacraments and church discipline.

Unbelievers need to be instructed in all those biblical teachings. So do Christian disciples. But purely for teaching reasons, because I know how our memories are, we’ll divide them between evangelism and discipleship.

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Ordinary Disciple-Making

The Command: Make Disciples

If we are going to study evangelism and discipleship, then we need to be sure it’s actually an obligation. Why study it, if it’s not something required of us? Making disciples is in fact a command.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The entire “evangelism & discipleship” course is comprehended in this text.

Notice exactly what is contained in the Great Commission. Jesus doesn’t just tell us a goal. He doesn’t just say “make disciples” and nothing else; he doesn’t give us the goal, and then leave us to decide how to achieve that goal. No. He actually tells us how. So if you want disciple-making according to Jesus, here it is. He says “make disciples.” That’s the goal. And he tells the disciples how to achieve that goal.

  • Goal: make disciples
  • How to achieve it: 1. Baptize 2. Teach everything.

How do you make disciples? Baptizing and teaching everything. That’s it! It’s doesn’t get simpler than that. And we see exactly this in the book of Acts. We see the inspired, inerrant, authoritative record of how the Apostles understood the Great Commission and their obedience to it. And it’s what Jesus said: Word and Sacrament. We see disciple-making in more detail in Acts 2:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:41-42

Peter preached the Word, and baptism followed faith and repentance. Then, they devoted themselves to more of the Word, and the other sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. This is obedience to the Great Commission.

Again, not complicated. The picture is simple. Making disciples may be hard work, but it’s not hard to understand. If disciplemaking is complicated, then it’s because we have made it that way. That’s not by Christ’s design.

What does disciple-making look like? What does obedience to the Great Commission look like? It looks like what the Apostle’s did in the book of Acts. It’s ordinary “means of grace” ministry.

To quickly apply this: if our method of making disciples doesn’t look like that [Acts 2:41-42], then we’re doing it wrong.

Hence, our Westminster Shorter Catechism asks:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.  (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42)

Notice the proof texts! The texts we have studied. The Catechism has simply formulated what the Scripture says. This is what making disciples looks like in Scripture. It’s what Jesus commanded, it’s what the Apostles carried out.

You see, God in his Word has not just given us a mission: make disciples. He has also given us the means of making disciples; the instruments to carry out the mission. We don’t need, nor are we at liberty to, invent our own means for making disciples. As if God has left us unequipped to accomplish the mission. We are not at liberty to ignore his means in favor of “new measures.” As if we are wiser than God. “Thanks, Lord Jesus, but we have a better way.” The Lord Jesus has not just given us optional tools, but he has ordained, commanded that we use these outward and ordinary means.

*Side note: this should be really encouraging to you who are studying evangelism and discipleship. If Scripture actually prescribes something, then we are actually limited in what we need to study. The subject has been simplified, for us.

The Lord Jesus has ordained the means to make disciples. And these means are consistent with the theology of Scripture. That should make sense: God will not contradict who he is and what he has said. And so, as we look at and discuss methods of evangelism and discipleship, we must remember that they must never contradict the doctrine and practice of Scripture. That’s why our Standards formulate both doctrine and practice (such as the Shorter Catechism, above). Theology must drive methodology.

God has ordained the means of making disciples. There is a divinely established relationship between the salvation of sinners and the outward means. They are not identical (that’s Rome), but they are distinct. Meaning, God is not dependent on the means. Case in point: the thief on the cross was saved by faith, apart from baptism. They are the ordinary means, but not necessary (i.e. God is not bound by them, grace is not attached to them).

However, if you think the inward grace and the outward means are separate (like most evangelicals), obviously that will result in a different methodology. Evangelicalism has effectively replaced the ordinary means with other rituals.

[A] lack of belief in the divine nature of the Church, the ordinary means of grace, and the pastoral office, lead to the belief that these things could be safely abandoned or ignored when they don’t seem to be working. This led Finney to seek better methods in the form of specially designed meetings and methods that, in Finney’s estimation, were more effective in producing converts and advancing the Gospel. Special revival meetings and other novelties were continually needed to advance the Gospel. Because the Church has so little life and power, and no divine mandate for her traditional methods, new excitements must therefore be continually sought.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 109).  . Kindle Edition.

We’ll look briefly at one of these ordinary and outward means: the Word. This is the primary ordinance, which defines the others.

Again, from our Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.  (Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17)

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did: the Word was preached and 3,000 were convinced and converted, then they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.

What does the catechism mean by “effectual to salvation”? Effectual means it actually gives the effect, it actually achieves the result for which it’s designed: salvation. The instrument will actually work. How then, do the instruments work? How are the outward and ordinary means made effective? The Holy Spirit makes them work. See, they don’t work on their own (as Rome says). Neither does grace ordinarily come apart from them (evangelicalism). The effect comes from the work of the Spirit of God.

It’s God the Holy Spirit that makes the Word work. Without him, there will be no effect, no salvation. The Holy Spirit works by and with the Word, as our Confession says. Notice, that especially the preaching of the Word is made an effectual means of salvation. Preaching has priority over reading. Preaching happens in church, on the Lord’s Day. The vast majority of the emphasis is placed on preaching, in the New Testament. Also, it’s simply a historical fact that the public preaching of the Word has always been a part of the Christian life, while personal Bible reading has not. What percentage of believers throughout history have even possessed a personal copy of God’s Word? When was the printing press invented?

To quickly apply this: an method of discipleship that puts all the emphasis on personal Bible reading and study is not only out of touch with the Westminster Standards (following Scripture), but with church history as well.

The Holy Spirit makes the Word effective in convincing, persuading, changing the minds of the sinner. Of converting them, turning them away from sin and towards Christ. After they have been “evangelized,” the Word is continually made effective to build them up in holiness, sanctifying them. That’s the rest of the Christian life (discipleship). The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God effective as the primary means of making disciples.

That’s just a taste, as we will go more in depth later on.

Another Reformed Creed says the same thing:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

Canons of Dort 1.3

If you want God-given results, you must use the God-given means. As G.I. Williamson says, “What we need, then, is not only to seek eternal life, but to seek it in the right way.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes, Kindle Location 3184). As I told my high school students: seek God’s grace in God’s way.

And now to you: seek the salvation of sinners, but seek it in the right way. Offer God’s grace to sinners in God’s way. Make disciples of Jesus, and do it Jesus’ way.

As Francis Schaeffer famously said: “we must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.”

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Theology Drives Methodology

 

Theology —> Methodology

Doctrine —> Practice

(Bible) —> Method

In contemporary evangelicalism, it is often asserted that methodology does not matter as long as the message does not change. In theological terms, it is thought that evangelistic methods fall in the category of adiaphora, or things indifferent. . . this is not the case. . . methods mattered greatly because depending upon the methods employed, one would find themselves working in harmony with the revealed will of God and furthering the work of His Church, or placing oneself in opposition to the workings of His Spirit and harming the cause of Christ. 

This understanding of the intimate relationship between theology and methodology, however, has been largely lost in the contemporary Church.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 6).  . Kindle Edition.

We must not begin our study of evangelism and discipleship with methods, practices, or strategies first. That is not the order of things. Methods, practices, and strategies are not neutral. They have a basis. There are presuppositions, convictions that are foundational to them. Behind every practice is a theory. Behind every evangelistic method there is a theology that created it. Underneath every discipleship strategy is a theology that gave rise to it.

. . . by their very nature, different methodologies send different messages. If we are to assume the correctness of a certain theological system, then there are certain methods which naturally flow out of, and promote, that system. Particular methodologies have embedded within them particular theologies.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 112).  . Kindle Edition.

This is the relationship between theology and practice. This should be the order for all the “practical theology” courses. In the Reformed world, we let our theology control our practice. That’s what makes Reformed theology and Reformed churches different. To demonstrate this, and preview what we will study in the future, we’ll look at the Reformed doctrine of God and other doctrines, and briefly apply them to evangelism and discipleship:

R.C. Sproul began his lecture, “The Doctrine of God in the Confession” (The Westminster Confession for Today Conference, 2007, RTS) with a paradox. Speaking of the Reformed faith, our doctrine of God is not very distinctive. It’s pretty catholic. We recognize one God in three persons, with his attributes, just as many other streams of Christianity.
At the same time, but not in the same relationship, Dr. Sproul says, that the single most distinctive aspect of Reformed theology is the doctrine of God.

What does that mean? Our doctrine of God is not very distinctive, yet it is the most distinctive aspect of Reformed theology? R.C. Sproul explains:

What is so distinctive about Reformed theology and the doctrine of God is that in our theology the doctrine of God is the controlling concept that defines all of our theology and practice.
He further explains the difference between Reformed theology and non-Reformed theologies. For other Christian communions/denominations, they will cite what they believe about the doctrine of God in their confession or creed, but by the time they move on to the next subdivision of theology, they have forgotten the doctrine of God. This results in inconsistency between the doctrine of God and other points of their theology. For our purposes, this inconsistency especially affects their practice. They have their doctrine of God, theology inconsistent with it, and as a result inconsistent practice.
Reformed theology, on the other hand, is controlled by our understanding of God. The doctrine of God permeates and determines every subdivision of our theology. This includes our doctrine of the creation, man, the church, salvation, Christ, worship, etc. Reformed theology strives to maintain consistency between the doctrine of God and all other subdivisions of theology.

And, we should add, the doctrine of God, controlling all subdivisions of theology, must also control our practice. Consistent Reformed theology drives Reformed methodology.

Doctrine of God (theology proper) → Reformed Theology (subdivisions) → Reformed practice

Here are some points of doctrine to demonstrate this relationship between Reformed theology and making disciples.

Election
Our doctrine of God controls what we believe about salvation. As the Confession says, God is “most free” (WCF 2.1). This is why we accept the doctrine of unconditional election. God has the freedom to elect some people to everlasting life, from eternity. God’s free to choose, and the decision is completely in him. There is no condition in man that affects God’s decision to save. There is nothing desirable in us. The creature contributes nothing to the Creator’s decision. It is completely God’s choice. His actions are not determined, or influenced. Has not the potter freedom over the clay?

Related to our practice of evangelism and discipleship. God is most free, and elects who will be saved. This should give us confidence that evangelism and discipleship will be successful. We don’t panic when the biblical method doesn’t work, and scramble for a better method, because we know God has elected some to salvation, already. Ultimately, the conversion of sinners is not dependant on us.

Also, as we proclaim the Gospel to all people, we will not even imply that election is in any way conditioned on them. Not even their faith and repentance influences God’s decision. Likewise, in our offer of the Gospel we cannot contradict Jesus’ words, “you didn’t choose me, but I chose you.” Therefore, we may not call people to “choose Jesus,” as if that settles the matter. Rather, using the biblical language, we call people to repent and believe.

Repentance
God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice determines our view of repentance. There is no salvation without repentance of sin. There is no reconciliation of sinful man to a holy God without God’s righteous justice. That is why Jesus needed to die. And that is why believers are dead to sin. God will never compromise his holiness. The Holy Spirit breaks the power of sin over us initially, and then purifies us progressively. Repentance is not only in the beginning of the Christian life but throughout it. That is why there are no adulterous Christians, or murdering Christians, or “homosexual Christians.” God is holy.

This certainly impacts our practice of evangelism and discipleship. Repentance is half of conversion. It is because God is holy that we call, indeed, command that all people everywhere repent (Acts 17:30). So in evangelism, we call people to repent of sin, and particular sins, and their sinfulness. These could very well require us to call out specific cultural sins, sins that are popular to our hearers. Throughout discipleship, repentance is daily. As Martin Luther said, the whole Christian life is one of repentance. All this, based on our doctrine of God.

Church Discipline
God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice also determine our doctrine of the church, specifically the mark of church discipline. We don’t allow unrepentant sinners into church membership. We are a holy nation. And when someone in the church is unrepentant, we execute church discipline in the hope of repentance and restoration. This is why there can be no tolerance of the sin of homosexuality within the church of Jesus Christ. We are God’s people, set apart in Christ who died for our sins, taken out of sin by God, freed from sin’s power by the Holy Spirit, dying to sin daily, and to be glorified and completely clean from sin after death.

Church discipline is the negative side of discipleship. As the church engages in making disciples, she also obeys Christ’s command to keep pure, to rebuke and correct, the goal being restoration and greater holiness. If God was not righteous or just, this wouldn’t matter. But he is, so it does. A church that does not practice church discipline is simply not making disciples.

Particular Redemption
Understanding the Tri-unity of God is vital to understanding Christ’s atonement.

In general, the doctrine of the Trinity may be stated thus: In the Godhead, three distinct persons, who are the same in substance and equal in power and glory, subsist in a single indivisible essence. —Beattie, loc. 771

The persons of the Trinity are always in agreement in all divine acts. Christ says that the Father has given him a flock, and that he won’t lose any of them. Who does the Holy Spirit save? Clearly not everybody, since some will end up in hell. The Holy Spirit unites those to Christ who believe in Jesus Christ. No one can see the kingdom of God, unless he is born again. So we have the Father choosing a particular number of people, out of all sinners, to deliver from sin and misery into salvation, by a Redeemer: Jesus Christ. What about the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ? Who did Christ make atonement for? Did Jesus Christ die for all people? If he did, suddenly the agreement between the divine persons is broken in the divine act of redemption. The Father gave a specific number to the Son, and the Holy Spirit only applies the benefits of Christ’s work to the elect. How can the Son then be doing his own thing, so to speak, in dying for the sins of people not chosen and not to be regenerated? No, Christ died for the elect, and the elect only. The redemption purchased by Christ was particular.

And so in making disciples we must have this understanding. A key practical effect of this doctrine of God is that we don’t communicate, even implicitly, that God loves everybody equally, or that Jesus Christ died for everyone. That would be to lie.

Worship
A word regarding worship: God is worshiped in spirit and truth, according to who he truly is. This is a clear connection between the doctrine of God and the rest of our theology. R.C. Sproul always says,

“Nothing reveals more clearly to the watching world what your doctrine of God is more than how you worship Him.”

How we worship announces who we think God is and what is pleasing to him. Unfortunately, even in Presbyterian churches, worship is more about what pleases us. The nature and character of God should regulate and control our worship. The songs that are being sung in your congregation, do their words contradict our doctrine of God in the Standards? Do the prayers accurately reflect who God is? Are the elements of worship consistent with the doctrine of God? The entirety of our worship must be consciously and intentionally determined by who God is.

As we will see, the worship of the church is essential to discipleship. The means of saving and building up the saints are the ordinances that the Lord Jesus gave to his church. So if we are to make disciples correctly, God’s way, then our worship needs to be correct. And that means our practice of worship, how we do it, must be consistent with our theology. The church’s worship cannot contradict who God is, and what he’s revealed in Scripture. If it does, then all the Christians are being taught false doctrine through the worship! They are not being instructed rightly, and they are not actually being discipled, at that point. And if any unbelievers are present, they are not being presented with the right message, either.

Theology drives methodology. This is true of worship, apologetics, missions, and evangelism and discipleship. We must begin this course with our theology. Because if we don’t, you will choose a method of evangelism and discipleship that will probably contradict Reformed theology. You’ll adopt a method that is based on a different theology (meaning, unbiblical beliefs). And this is what has happened in our context. People who are supposed to be Presbyterian are using evangelism and discipleship methods that are based on Arminian theology!

If man can repent at any time, and God is already doing as much as he can, then the onus of bringing about conversions necessarily falls upon man. It is up to man to come up with the best possible methods in order to save as many people as possible. A failure to use the best and most innovative methods is equivalent to a failure to truly desire men’s salvation.

Locating the source of man’s salvation in man and his methods also places upon the backs of Christians a crushing burden of responsibility that has the potential to lead to imbalance and burnout. If your lack of action in pursuing the salvation of men could result in their damnation, then it is imperative that you exhaust yourself at all times in seeking their salvation. Devoting time to discipleship, recreation, or family, are of secondary importance, by far. Lives are on the line. The time spent on a family picnic might have been the only opportunity that someone had to hear the Gospel from you. But because you went on a picnic, someone is now going to hell.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 108).  . Kindle Edition.

We begin with theology. Meaning, we begin with the teaching of the Bible. As Presbyterians, we have that teaching written down in an orderly form. We have a summary of biblical doctrine, and they are the doctrinal standards of Presbyterians everywhere: the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They are the system of doctrine contained in the Bible. They set out the system of doctrine, practice, and ethics of Scripture. So we will begin this course with a study of relevant doctrines from these Standards. We’ll also complement them with the other Reformed creeds: the Three Forms of Unity.

After nailing down our theology, we will look at application. The “how” of evangelism and discipleship, consistent with what we believe. It will be a Reformed or Presbyterian method of evangelism and discipleship. Because we are starting with Reformed theology, the method of evangelism and discipleship will probably be different than what you are familiar with.

If . . . we believe that God is sovereign in the calling, regeneration, and conversion of sinners, then a high pressure system that presses for conversion is unnecessary, unbiblical, and harmful. The Bench should be abandoned. If one were to share [the] conviction that God is the author of salvation, and that he will save sinners in the way that he has prescribed, then a consistent implementation of those views would lead one to arrive at a belief in the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the local ministry of the Church. Such beliefs also foster an attitude of humble dependence upon God, and a comfort and reassurance that He is a loving heavenly Father who is both powerful and willing to care for the souls of men.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 109).  . Kindle Edition.

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The Most Delectable Discourse

Holy and heavenly discourse is the most delectable. I mean in its own aptitude, and to a mind that is not diseased by corruption. That which is most great, and good, and necessary, is most delectable. What should best please us, but that which is best for us? and best for others? and best in itself? The excellency of the subject maketh it delightful! And so doth the exercise of our graces upon it: and serious conference doth help down the truth into our hearts, where it is most sweet. Besides that nature and charity make it pleasant to do good to others. It can be nothing better than a subversion of the appetite by carnality and wickedness, that maketh any one think idle jests, or tales, or plays, to be more pleasant than spiritual, heavenly conference; and the talking of riches, or sports, or lusts, to be sweeter than to talk of God, and Christ, and grace, and glory. A holy mind hath a continual feast in itself in meditating on these things, and the communicating of such thoughts to others, is a more common, and so a more pleasant feast.

—Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, “Christian Politics” ch. 16, “Special Directions for Christian Conference, Exhortation, and Reproof” (loc. 46756)

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Preaching & Dying

I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.

—Richard Baxter

Death is a reality. It’s the one certainty of life. Everybody dies. It’s inevitable. And the certainty of death should affect our life. Having the end in view puts things in perspective, allowing us to evaluate our priorities. Looking toward certain death puts all vocations in perspective. Parents, workers, rulers.

The certainty of death should especially affect the vocation of pastor. Death should put the task of preaching in proper perspective.

Yet, how easily pastors forget this. The cemetery is no longer just outside the church building. You can’t look out the church window and see the resting place of congregants before you, and where you will one day go to join them. Death is not visible on the Lord’s Day. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”  The congregation would certainly think more seriously about preaching if death was on their mind.

The inevitable event of dying should affect pastoral ministry, especially the primary work of preaching, from two angles. First, the congregation will die. The pastor preaches to dying men. Second, the pastor will die. The preacher is a fellow dying man. Death should shape pastoral ministry from both sides. Particularly, that should affect each time he preaches; every sermon. The pastor must preach as never sure to preach again.

To Dying Men

First, the congregation will die. The flock that has been entrusted to the under-shepherd is headed for eternity. So?

What is the pastor’s job? Management? Social work? Civil service? CEO? Community service? The reality of death can simplify that question. The pastor’s work is to prepare his people to die.

Is your flock of “dying men” and women ready for death? What do they need, in order to prepare? How can you prepare them?

So much of preaching today is concerned with daily life. How to be successful. Family issues. Money issues. Cultural values. Education. Whatever Roman Catholic holiday is next on the calendar. Temporary things. Much of it amounts to the pastor’s personal advice. With all this concern, and desire for “practical” things, one certainty is forgotten. All of that will end, one day.

I fear that with the preoccupation with our daily, practical concerns, nobody is thinking about the end of life. None are asking how to be prepared to meet our Maker. Consequently, the preaching in such an environment is not preaching to dying men.

Imagine your congregation, all of them, on death’s doorstep. Have you prepared them? I know several pastor’s, at least those who love their people, crying out on that day because they still have things to tell their people. But when death comes, it’s too late.

Ask yourself: can you honestly say that you’ve preached God’s Word in such a way, that if your flock died, you can confidently say they are ready? Have you done your part to prepare them for death?

The Gospel, of course, is what you would have been proclaiming. The people must know what God requires that they may escape his wrath and curse, due to them for sin. Does the Gospel characterize your preaching?

The pastor’s job is to prepare people to die well, to die in the Lord. To sleep in Jesus, resting in their graves, as in their beds.

Has your preaching accomplished that? Not if it’s so focused on this world. On the passing things of this life. Like wealth, health, prosperity, education, finances. What of eternal realities? As God said to the rich man in the parable, “You fool! Tonight, your soul will be required of you.”

How terrible if pastors were guilty of developing more fools.

A Dying Man

Here’s the proper perspective:

Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten.

—Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

You, preacher, will not always be here. Does that change your priorities? Just a little?

It should certainly make us think of what the focus of ministry needs to be. More study, more studying your people. Less time on other things, even good things, but aren’t actually part of the pastor’s God-given job description.

But, let’s see how it affects the primary work of the pastor: preaching the Word. In your short amount of time, what needs to be accomplished in the pulpit?

Preach the Gospel. The Gospel will outlive you. It will continue in the minds of the congregants that outlive you.

So many pastors today are concerned with legacy. I cringe just hearing that word. Because usually it means leaving your name. From the perspective of the Kingdom of God, however, your name continuing, your personal legacy, is irrelevant. That’s an earthly perspective, in my mind. Rather, we are to have an eternal perspective. What’s the thing you should leave behind? The faith, given once and for all, passed down from generation to generation of saints.

You being remembered pales in comparison to the Gospel being remembered. Indeed, pastoring is not about you. Preaching is certainly not about you (though we can’t tell, half the time).

The Apostle Paul declared himself free of the blood of any man. How? He preached the whole counsel of God. He warned them daily. Aha! That must be the preacher’s aim. His time is short. So the intention, the goal, and priority is to preach all of God’s Word. That’s your responsibility. You have the whole counsel of God in your possession and it’s your job to preach it before the time is up. Here’s an exercise: imagine the end of your life, and being asked whether you did your duty. You had the whole counsel of God, but did you preach it while you had the time?

You won’t always be around. What do your fellow “dying men” and women need to possess, before you die? The Word of God.

This of course means the preacher himself is ready to die, at any time.

Never Sure to Preach Again

Here we get more particular. We stop looking at the whole of life, and narrow it down to one particular day. Yes, death should even have implications for a single day. More particularly, how does death affect a single sermon? Simply put: this sermon could be your last.

I think a lot of pastors approach preaching thinking, “Oh, another time to talk about stuff.” And I’m left sitting there thinking, “Why did you spend 45 minutes talking about that?”

Rather, they should walk up to the pulpit thinking, “This is it: final words.” Parting words, they may be. I think there would be a whole lot less nonsensetriviality, and (frankly) childishness in our pulpits if pastors realized that this sermon could very well be their last.

That’s assuming, of course, that they care about preaching the Word and being faithful to the text. Most, it seems, are content to merely preach themselves.

This might be a good exercise for preachers: after you preach on Sunday morning, ask yourself, “Was that a satisfying final sermon?”

I ask you, “What if you died before next Sunday?”

That might get your priorities straight. God forbid you failed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Who wants to finish their race on a note of life-advice or 5 tips for a successful blah-blah-blah? A hireling, maybe. Surely not a true under-shepherd of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Your people are going to die, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You are going to die, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So preach in light of that fact. If that was your last sermon, would you be proud of it? As you go to answer directly to your Master, for that stricter judgment James says teacher receive, can you say you did your duty?

As you reflect on your last sermon, perhaps you realize it was shallow. As in, light on Bible. Superficial.

Ask yourself, do you really want to leave your people with your personal stories, anecdotes, and quotes? That’s what you thought needed to be said, before you departed this earth? I don’t think so.

By God’s grace, and if the Lord tarries, you’ll live to see another Sunday. So, go about preparing your next sermon. But, after your sermon preparation is complete, I want you to hear me ask you:

“You want that to be your last sermon?”

I know quite a few preachers that, judging by their sermons, need to think about death a lot.

Think about it.

It may change your preaching.

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God’s Glory and Cultural Idols: Estate

I ran across something very relevant to our context, while finishing The Lord’s Prayer, which is the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

In his sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6: 11), Watson first draws our attention to the order of the prayer. God’s glory comes first, before our concerns.

God’s glory is more worth than heaven, more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. It is better that kingdoms be demolished, better men and angels be annihilated—than God lose any part of his glory! We are to prefer God’s glory before our nearest concerns. But before we prefer God’s glory to our private concerns—we must be born again. The natural man seeks his own personal interest before God’s glory.

—loc. 4278

Now, here comes the gold. As application, or “use”, of this order of the prayer, Thomas Watson says we should test ourselves: “Do we prefer God’s glory before our private concerns?” He then nails three things that I recognize as cultural idols (The Lord’s Prayer, loc. 4290). The first is reputation, the second is relations, now the third:

Estate

(3) We must prefer God’s glory before ESTATE. Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier. If it comes to this—I cannot keep my place of profit, but God’s glory will be eclipsed—I must rather suffer in my estate than God’s glory should suffer. Heb 10:34.

We don’t really use the word “estate” so much. Watson is referring to wealth, profit, and not merely property. He says that a competitor for our devotion is wealth, what we can amass in this life. Is profit bad? Is wealth sinful? No, not at all. So what’s the problem? If our estate ever begins to threaten the glory of God, then that’s a problem. If God’s glory should ever suffer due to our wealth, then we are not seeking the glory of God above all things. And if God’s glory will be eclipsed due to our place of profit, we should be willing to suffer our estate for the glory of God.

Estate is a huge cultural idol. People devote their whole lives to material prosperity. That’s the end-all of life. Life-goal: estate. Isn’t it the chief end of everything else? Think about the motivation for why we prioritize so many other things in life. Why are parents told to raise kids right? So that they can succeed in life. What do we all tell students, especially in the West, is the reason to do well in school? So you can go to college. Why college? So you can get a job. Why the job? So you can make money and have a successful, comfortable life. So that eventually you can retire, and rest in your estate. All the other priorities in life are mere stepping stones to the ultimate thing: estate. Estate is the goal of life, it seems.

This cultural idol of estate has even infiltrated the church. It’s even preached from the pulpit. I have lost count of how many “sermons” I have heard on performing well in school, working hard in life, and making money. There’s no discernible difference from what the culture is saying, except for the bouncing off of Bible verses (typically ripped out of context). Congregations, children, their parents, and the elderly, all are being directed to that shining dust more than to the glory of God. At least in what’s being talked about, estate is weighing much heavier in the church.

Watson’s warning is as relevant now as it ever was. Christians have a question to ask themselves: when it comes down to a choice between financial profit or the glory of God, which will you choose? Will we prefer our profit, even though God’s glory will be compromised? It’s easy to say, “God’s glory, of course.” Well, let’s look at a specific example, to see if we have already eclipsed God’s glory.

The most obvious scenario would be remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). This is the clear case example, where it comes down to estate or God’s glory. God himself has set aside a time, one whole day out of seven, for us to devote ourselves to worship. Part of that is, of course, gathering together as a church for corporate worship. The rest of the time is to be occupied with private and family worship.

And what did God say about this one whole day? “You shall do no work.” That’s why Sabbath-keeping is such a good example for what Watson is talking about. What does work produce? Estate. What does God command for Sunday? No work. So that means no attention is to be given to our estate, on that day. Estate takes a backseat. Here, God is telling us explicitly that this time is not for estate, but for something else. Not only in the Lord’s Prayer are our concerns put in their proper place, but even in God’s law our labor is limited. The pursuit of estate should not consume all the time we have. Note that the 4th Commandment actually contains the command to work for six days. Again, working and earning profit is not wrong! Not working would be wrong. But just as sinful as laziness is devotion to estate alone. The seventh day has been dedicated to the Lord God, and on it we shall do no work (the word “Sabbath” means to cease). Meaning, we cease pursuing estate and focus on worshiping God. That’s why it’s the day of holy rest. Not mere inactivity, just resting from work, but a different kind of activity: worship. Not activity for estate.

Here’s the big question: how many of us, who claim to be Christians, continue to chase estate on the Lord’s Day, when we don’t have to (meaning they are not works of necessity)? How many chase profit on that day of holy rest?

To desecrate the Sabbath, to proceed about our profit and estate on the day that he has set apart for worship and rest, is to rob God of the glory that is due him. That’s a concrete example of keeping my place of profit and eclipsing God’s glory.

Will you eclipse God’s glory and carry on your personal business on the Lord’s Day? We’ll you proceed to make a profit, to build your estate, and let God’s glory suffer? On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, God has commanded that we glorify him through worship, the whole day. But we would rather God’s glory suffer, than suffering in our estate. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. That’s a true test of whether you prefer God’s glory above your nearest concerns, especially estate.

Preferring God’s Glory

So what would it look like to prefer God’s glory before estate? If God’s glory weighed heavier, what would we do? Examples could be multiplied. Let’s stick with keeping the Christian Sabbath holy.

Simply, it would mean not working. Not pursuing your profit on God’s holy day. Remember, he gives us six whole days for our estate. Six days. That’s for our estate. Six whole days for our normal business. But, how many days does God take for himself? One. It’s not even close to unfair. As if estate really suffers by working six days instead of seven.

Let’s get more specific. It means not making that sale, Sunday afternoon. It means not attending that work event, on Sunday. It means not scheduling your business trip, traveling for work, on Sunday. It means not taking that business call, right after church, when you haven’t even left the building yet. It certainly means not engaging in business with people at church! It also means, if you are an employer or have hired people to do a job, not having them work on Sunday. Finally, it means not even making business plans for the following week. It doesn’t just mean not actually making profit on the Christian Sabbath, it means not even talking or thinking about estate, either. That’s a tall order.

Perhaps our estate will be less than otherwise. Yet, we should rather suffer estate than God’s glory should suffer. Indeed, which is in reality more valuable? Our money, property, material prosperity? Or is it the glory of God? God’s glory is worth more than all of creation. But, our lives will indeed show which we consider to be more valuable. As Watson said, “Gold is but shining dust. God’s glory must weigh heavier.” Interestingly, the word “glory” is related to “heavy.”

If it ever comes down to taking a financial hit or compromising God’s glory, we should take the hit. There are many possible situations where that could happen. There’s that little saying, “honesty is the best policy.” No, not in this fallen world it’s not, especially if you want to get ahead in life. Estate will be less than it could be, if we did business the way the world does. But that wouldn’t give God glory, would it?

We should earnestly pray the Lord’s Prayer, being mindful of the order. May we all prefer God’s glory before estate.

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