In a passing comment on Ephesians 1.15, John Gill speaks this way:
And the grace of faith, which terminates on him, is a seeing him, a beholding the glory of his person, and the fulness of his grace; a going to him, and venturing on him; a laying hold upon him, and embracing of him; a committing all unto him, and a leaning and depending on him, and a living upon him, and a walking on in him.
What a delightful way to describe the full-orbed nature of the faith that saves in looking to Christ Jesus!
This is not about Mark Driscoll, though it is prompted by a few notes being sounded (not by him, as far as I am aware) with regard to his resignation letter, and the circumstances surrounding it.
First, pastoral qualification is never merely a matter of apparent giftedness and effectiveness. It has at its root a question of character. I thankfully acknowledge that, mercifully, and to the best of our knowledge, Mark has not been guilty of “immorality, illegality and heresy.” Nevertheless, I protest that this is not the issue in the matter of pastoral qualification and disqualification. The presence of scandalous and often public sin would certainly disqualify any man from ministry at that point in time and very possibly perpetually. Its mere absence, though, is not the same as being qualified for ministry. There are a set of very specific and detailed qualifications that are necessary – not optional – for any man who would be an under-shepherd of any flock of God. For the sake of completeness, here they are, with some emphasised elements, some relating to present and some to past issues:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1–7)
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Ti 1:5–9)
Many moons ago, I addressed some of this here. Any man – however prominent, apparently gifted or seemingly effective – who falls short in these matters is disqualified from the pastorate. If these matters of character remain as unresolved patterns of behaviour in any man seeking to shepherd the flock of God, then he cannot – for the sake of the church, he must not! – be permitted to take that office.
A second matter has to do with the matter of apologies and forgiveness. We are often told that some man has apologised for something. He was sorry he did it. Fine, and so might we all be. But an apology is not the same as repentance. The gracious dynamic that truly resolves sin and its offence is not the mere passage of time, nor the issuing of a more-or-less public apology (see here for more on this). It is the expression of sincere repentance, with its appropriate fruits, with forgiveness extended in principle and practice, leading – we trust – to genuine reconciliation and appropriate restoration. Quite apart from anything else, I can be sorry for a sin that I may or intend to go on committing. Repentance involves a God-dependent determination and whole-souled commitment to keep from sinning in that way again. So applause for apology is a different thing to forgiving the repentant, and we should not confuse the two, either in their intention or effect.
Finally, let there be no gloating: “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Cor 10:12). You may believe you saw this coming. You may have mourned over the painful trajectory that developed, and perhaps the failure of those who publicly applauded phases of Mark’s career publicly to address the change in tack. You may have your suspicions and fears about what comes next. But to revel in the sin of another is a demonic thing. To rejoice in a man’s public downfall is to join Satan’s company. When you see another man, any man, sinning and stumbling, remember that – but for the grace of God – that is you, and pray with tears that it might never be.
I did not think to mention this earlier, but for those in and around Sussex (and anyone else who can get there) there is a Sussex Conference this coming Saturday, hosted by Hailsham Baptist Church, and the topic is “Bring the books!”
I have been asked to preach and teach three times on that topic and am very much looking forward to it. The conference begins at 10.30am, and the cost is negligible. It’s a little late in the day, but I am sure that they will be delighted to welcome all comers, though grateful for advance notice if you are able to give it. All the details are on the brochure here.
Papers are as follows:
- Holy worldliness? by Stephen Clark
- Thomas Charles of Bala by Adrian Brake
- The International Phenomenon of Calvinistic Methodism by Andrew Davies
- Law and Grace by Mark Jones
- Richard Baxter and his Legacy by Robert Strivens
- John Knox: An International Christian by Andy Young
Entirely unconnected with the Scottish referendum, I am heading north for a few days next week. The saints at Cumnock Baptist Church are having a Bible rally, and I have been asked if I will preach each evening from Monday 22 through Friday 26 September. The meetings begin each night at 7.30pm and all are welcome. My theme for the week, God willing, will be “The Redeemer.”
If you are able to drop by, please say hello.
Over the last week or so, I have put aside a few days to work with my friend Stephen McCaskell, who has been directing the biographical film of the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon, Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. With Stephen have been the outstanding Matt Pennings, a quite magnificent photographer (see here and here, especially if you live in Ontario) and Director of Photography on this project, and the effervescent Brandon McCaskell, sound guy and general helper.
Stephen has been sending out updates through the film’s Facebook page and on the blog. I have to say, I have been impressed with the technical skills of these gentlemen. Of course, I have no real expertise with which to judge, but the quiet efficiency and all round competence on display, together with what looks like some great final product, gives me real hope of a happy outcome to this project. I readily acknowledge that my occasional appearance as narrator could be considered to drag the whole thing down horribly, but there’s not much I can now do about that.
There remains a great deal to be accomplished, but the last few days have been profitable, as I hope the following pictures suggest.
Scotland is heading to the voting booths. The people of Scotland will shortly declare whether or not they wish their country to remain part of the Union, or secede. It is, by all accounts, a momentous decision with consequences which can in some measure be accurately predicted, some which can at least be observed coalescing, and some which no-one will have expected. The campaigning, especially as the vote looms, has become strident, even violent. Impassioned pleas ring out from both “Yes” and “No” camps. And many Christians are making what seems to be a watertight case as to how they and others should vote. And some are saying, “Yes,” and others, “No.”
We can and should recognise with thanksgiving the peculiar heritage of the United Kingdom and its constituent parts, with the blessing of genuine Christian influence upon some elements of our national systems and structures. At the same time, I aver that the United Kingdom – in whole and in its parts – is not and never really has been a Christian country. At times, more “a people of the Book,” but not a Christian country. There are Christian individuals, and there are Christian churches, and there is Christian influence, but there are not Christian countries. It’s just not how it works.
So, what difference does this make? What difference might it make in Scotland? In the rest of the Union? In Europe (geographically and politically)? Across the globe?
Andrew Fuller’s brief sermon on “Christian Patriotism” from his collected works is always a helpful read at such a time, whether one considers oneself English, Scottish, Welsh or British. Whichever dog we think we have in the fight, Fuller puts it on a proper leash.
The outcome of the Scottish vote will, in some measure, in the shorter and longer terms, change the circumstances in which the saints go about their business. But our business will not change. We are all still citizens of a heavenly kingdom. When all these things are shaken, as they are in time and most certainly will be when the end comes, the kingdom of Christ remains. Our hopes for the kingdom are not shackled to any particular country or individual or system of government. Our fears need not rise or fall with any fall of rise of any person, party, policy or process, need not be yoked to any particular nation-state. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world – not absolutely of any part or portion of it, but throughout it and above it.
As Christian citizens and Christian patriots, we have genuine and legitimate interests in such questions as those now being posed. Our responsibilities and concerns as Christians in particular nations are many. There may be pains and pleasures, profits and losses, progress and retreat, as an apparent or untraced consequence of the vote in Scotland tomorrow, one way or the other.
However, when the voting is done, and the dust has settled, and the fallout begins, Christ himself remains our peace. He has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
While, of course, Paul is not speaking about the English and the Scots – whose enmity, it might be said, sometimes seems to rival that of the Jew and the Gentile – the principle surely stands. What saints from every country have in common transcends all that divides us. When the end comes, these will not be the things that last and they will not be the things that matter. There will come a time when we shall behold a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Until then, all our wrangling and wrestling, all our voting and investing, should be conditioned by these heavenly realities. After all, whatever afflictions we suffer here – up to and including being (un)shackled (together) – they are but for a moment, and they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Fix your eyes there before the vote. Consider it well when you or others vote. Hold fast to it after the vote. For we do not set our minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith yet standeth fast:
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God alone the first and last.