The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Conrad Mbewe

The insecurity of potential missionaries

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Conrad Mbewe hits hard but fair, asking about our unwillingness to face risk for the sake of the kingdom:

My argument here is that the worthiness of a cause can be seen by how much people are willing to suffer for it. Look at the price that Jesus paid when he incarnated among us. He left the splendour of heaven knowing his destiny was not only the lonely hill of Golgotha but also years of hardship and tears. Why? It was because of the worthiness of the cause. His sacrifice was going to result in the salvation of billions and, above all, it was going to bring glory to our great God.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 27 December 2014 at 09:34

An interview with Conrad Mbewe

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The interview is entitled “A Great Inheritance.” Here’s a snippet:

TT: What are two important lessons that Western Christians can learn from the African church?

CM: Western civilization has lost a lot of its interpersonal virtues. It has become overly individualized—if you see what I mean. Issues like hospitality, respect for authority and the elderly, being more people-conscious than time-conscious, and so on are largely lost. This has affected not only the society generally but Christians as well.

Western Christians have filled their lives with too many things (toys?) that have robbed them of eternal perspectives. Electronic gadgets, holidays, sports, recreation, and so on have almost become idols. Even church must be about having fun. The church has little time in the lives of its members to prepare them for eternity. There is a greater consciousness of eternity here in Africa. Perhaps it is because we have fewer toys to dull our spiritual senses and death is all around us.

A greater exposure of Western Christians to their African counterparts may help them regain some of these lost virtues, strengths, and perspectives.

Hmmm.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 November 2012 at 21:13

Posted in While wandering . . .

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Back from Zambia

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Many thanks to those who prayed. I had a great time in Zambia.

Flying out Wednesday evening, I arrived early Thursday morning and then flew north to Ndola where Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church collected me. By the end of the day – having spent some time at one of the compound churches, Mapalo Reformed Baptist Church, here Pastor Marshall labours with a heart for his needy people – I had arrived at the Kaniki Bible College, a couple of miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (and therefore supplied with a helpful bevy of armed police officers), for the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference 2012 on the topic of Assurance of Salvation.

It was a slightly tricky start as schools had only just finished, and consequently people were still arriving on Thursday evening when Matthews Fikati, a local pastor, kicked things off with a sermon on 1 John 5.13. Matthews was energetic and direct, very much in earnest. A slight concern as I heard him was that I was also beginning my series with a sermon on 1Jn 5.13. However, as Matthews preached it became clear that he was setting out to accomplish something different while still setting the tone, and in doing so laid a foundation for all that would follow.

My ministry began on Friday morning. Each day began with a prayer meeting at 6am followed by a ‘rise and shine’ exercise session to get the blood flowing at 6.30am. The main days had two morning sessions (followed by discussion groups) and one evening session, and I closed with a single sermon on Monday morning. I therefore preached six sermons on the topic of assurance, beginning with 1Jn 5.13, on the fact that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable and possible. I went on to look at false foundations for assurance, before defining four key marks of true assurance of salvation: accepting God’s divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin; devotion to the glory of God; increasing, persevering holiness; and, love for the saints. The Sunday services were attended by the sponsoring churches, keeping their Lord’s day in company with the conference attendees. I finished the series on Monday morning with a brief send-off address from 2Tim 1:12, identifying the substance of true assurance of salvation.

In the three evening meetings I was preaching three evangelistic services, taking a variety of topics: I considered the putting away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice from Heb 9.26, the questions that we must ask concerning the judgement to come from Is 10.3, and the conference between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, which was conducted at Calvary from Ps 85.10.

During the afternoons there were three sessions: one on making and choosing friends, one of making Scriptures our daily companion, and one on young people and pornography (at least as much a problem in Zambia as here in the UK). These were taken by local pastors or conference leaders, and were more interactive sessions, with lots of solid, practical advice.

All told, it was an excellent conference. Toward the end it became apparent that the Lord was blessing the ministry, as some of the group leaders reported that there were a good number attending who had come under conviction of sin and were seeking – and some professing to find – the Lord Christ, and a similar blessing on several troubled and doubting saints, whose minds were made clear and whose hearts were made warm. In the kindness of God, the whole ministry sometimes fitted together in ways beyond human planning. For example, one report came concerning a young woman for whom the sermon revealing inconclusive grounds of assurance had made plain that she never was a child of God, and who therefore sought Christ as presented in all his saving fullness.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that these were the same kind of sermons (some of them the very same sermons, or at least the same in substance) I preach here in the UK, preached with no discernible difference in intent, tone, spirit and expectation by the preacher, and yet the sermons at which people shrug and shuffle here seemed to produce more rapid and discernible effects there. I hasten to add that the friends organising the conference are not inclined to judge too quickly, and would be the last to offer ‘numbers,’ as it were, but are competent and careful assessors of such things. For a preached accustomed to seeing little apparent effect from his ministry, such an experience is deeply humbling and a cause for great rejoicing and renewed prayer that the sovereign Lord who is willing to bless in one place would be pleased to bless in another.

Also instructive was the arrangement and constitution of the conference. Some of the attendees were very young, others well into their twenties. The conference is organised and managed by an older group of responsible young men and women who pretty much run everything during the conference itself. The conference draws from a wide number of churches, and some of those attending are just recently off the streets, have never heard the gospel before, or have other particular needs, while some come from mature Christian homes and churches. Whereas I can imagine some trying to exclude the former for the sake of the latter (or just to make life easier), here the organisers embraced all the workload associated with such a ministry (I think the preaching might have been the easy bit!), working tirelessly to marshal the attendees, to keep things moving at a reasonable pace, to entertain and feed the hordes, coping with everything from sickness to theft with a boldness and tenderness that was genuinely commendable. Oh, for a few of these to serve in our churches! I was grateful to be serving with such gracious and determined and hard-working hosts. One young couple, the Tholes, were even appointed as my guardians for the conference, and a greater care I could not have received as I navigated through all my duties.

We parted with many expressions of mutual affection, and I headed back south for Lusaka by road, graciously chauffeured by none other than Conrad Mbewe, who – with his wife, Felistas – had also been in the area preaching at a conference for another church. I had a delightful four hours or so with Conrad and Felistas, exchanging news of mutual acquaintances, and – for me – an opportunity to pick their brains about a variety of issues of interest.

Monday evening saw me arrive safely at the home of James & Megan Williamson (LION of Zambia), serving in Zambia and sent out by the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. It was through James that I first came to Zambia, when I taught last year at the Copperbelt Ministerial College. That night was punctuated by the rather unfortunate children of the Williamson clan who – with one exception – all fell victim to an attack of vomiting between the hours of 10pm and 8am the following morning. Quarantined for my own safety in a nearby lodge, I spent some of my time reading and writing while the Williamson succumbed, cleaned, and recovered in some kind of sequence. Mercifully, James and I were spared, and spent some time running errands and meeting friends. It was very useful to see the kind of challenges and opportunities that James & Megan have.

While James oversees various efforts, including a newer ministerial college in Lusaka itself, Megan has particular responsibility for the Hope for the Afflicted orphan ministry, and I spent three hours on Wednesday morning touring Kabanana, the compound where most of the sponsored children are found. Some of the needs are grievous. Two scenes stick out: the room barely six feet square which is the entire living space (including cooking, eating, sleeping – everything) for a family of five, and the skeletal father of the mother of some of the children, who sat weakly on the floor in a fly-infested room eating fly-ridden food, occasionally hanging on to a chair as he was wracked by coughing. I walked out thinking that perhaps I had come across my first ever case of tuberculosis.

A few hours in such a place does wonders for one’s sense of priority and thankfulness for material blessings, without forgetting that the crying need is for the gospel to be taken. A few handfuls of healthy food look like a feast when you have seen a pack of kids scavenging on a rubbish dump. The orphan ministry is taking on more children.

Another observation: just because we do not have such abject poverty on our doorsteps does not mean that we do not have the poor with us. I remember that, after reporting on my previous visit, and issuing a challenge as to our response to need in our own area, someone retorted that the people near us are not really poor, are they? Such an attitude is the very one that cuts the nerve of merciful endeavour. There are homes of squalor, misery, loneliness, crime and abuse all around this and many towns in the UK, and the gospel, prompting and ministered with loving care to the whole man, is just as much the need here as there, and might bear just as much fruit.

Wednesday afternoon ended with my collection by Pastor Kasango Kayombo of Ibex Hill. Kasango had been one of the students at the Copperbelt Ministerial College when I was in Zambia before, and is now pastor of a church meeting at Old MacDonald’s Farm, the home of Don & Christine MacDonald who have made it their business to rescue some of the needy boys from the streets of Lusaka and give them homes and care for them, teach them and train them and preach the gospel to them. Several of the members and a few other friends had gathered and I preached at the midweek meeting, accompanied by some beautiful singing, on John 11, finding at least as many lessons for myself as for others as we took our faith to the school of Lazarus’ tomb.

Heading home, I had a surprise visit from Pastor Kabwe, who was himself in Lusaka for a day or two, just as I was packing, and then I headed to the airport at 6.15am the next morning, waved goodbye to James, who returned to his full house and full hands, and stepped into a plane which kindly deposited me about 10 hours and 5000 swift miles later in London, where I was shortly reunited with my family.

I had been reading a gift from my wife in my spare moments, Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, and could not help but marvel with gratitude at the ease, speed, safety and comfort with which I accomplished my journey to the heart of Africa, compared with his. With barely a bite and few discernible health issues, I arrived home with a heart full of thankfulness to God, with the hopes of further trips to serve my Zambian brothers and sisters, and with prayers not just for continued fruit there, but for a grant of God’s Spirit and evidence of blessing in the work that we have to do here.

Thank you for your prayers. Do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work that has been, is being and will be done.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 April 2012 at 15:36

“The Brokenhearted Evangelist”

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Hurrah and huzzah! The Brokenhearted Evangelist rolls from the presses (do books still roll from presses?) to the acknowledging grunts of the three people who have pre-ordered it.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

With a “gutless orthodoxy,” Christians today quickly affirm biblical truth regarding evangelism and mission, but, author Jeremy Walker reminds us, “we cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men, souls, heaven, hell, and salvation unless it is making a difference in the way we think, feel, pray, speak, and act.” How do Christians develop this sense of urgency to see lost sinners saved? What motivates our evangelism? We must have the character of the brokenhearted evangelist, the David of Psalm 51, who recognizes the greatness of his own sin, looks to God for forgiveness, then recognizes his undeniable obligation to teach transgressors God’s ways. In an engaging style and with pastoral warmth, Walker urges Christians to exercise their obligation and privilege to teach transgressors God’s ways, providing both spiritual truth and practical guidance for carrying out this necessary gospel duty.

There are five chapters in the book, and you can read a sample by clicking the link for chapter one:

  1. Am I Willing? Our Undeniable Obligation
  2. Am I Effective? Our Necessary Equipment
  3. Am I Committed? Our Appointed Means
  4. Am I Focused? Our Declared Aim
  5. Am I Fruitful? Our Great Expectation

Several esteemed men have been willing to read it and provide endorsements:

John MacArthur: “In recent years providence has brought a number of people into my life and ministry who are passionate about evangelism. Some of them are especially keen to win friends, fellow-workers, and family to Christ; others are engaged in various kinds of open-air evangelism, bringing the gospel to people they have never met before. I thank God for all of them and the passion that drives them. This excellent book by Jeremy Walker explains the biblical principles that underlie and provoke such passion, reminding us that time is short, the need is urgent, the laborers are few, and the fields are white unto harvest.”

Conrad Mbewe: “Jeremy Walker’s book is in the tradition of the Puritan classic, Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted, but this is more Jeremy Walker’s Alarm to the Converted. It is a pleasant surprise, coming as it does from a part of our world where Christianity has largely entered a ‘garrison’ (bunker) mode. The book, based on Psalm 51:13, is not meant simply to teach us about evangelism; it demands a verdict. He enlists the help of the great soul winners in history to reinforce his appeals. Even before I finished reading the book, I was already asking myself whether my heart was truly broken about the lost around me—and if it is, what am I doing about it?”

Paul Washer:The Broken Hearted Evangelist will refresh, strengthen, and equip the most timid saint for the work of soul winning. Jeremy Walker’s consideration of evangelism from the perspective of Psalm 51 is like fresh water drawn from a new well. He does not merely exhort us to greater faithfulness in evangelism and then leave us bewildered and guilty. Instead, he takes us to the very fountain from which all true motivation and strength for evangelism springs forth—the gospel and its glorious impact upon our own lives.”

At the moment, it is available from Reformation Heritage Books and Westminster Bookstore and Amazon.com. If you are interested, please take time to order and read it. Many thanks.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 7 February 2012 at 17:17

Of Christian nations

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What is the state and what is the church? Once we come to a biblical understanding of these two institutions and what their purposes are, we will have no problem seeing the absurdity of declaring Zambia a Christian nation (or a secular state) and enshrining it in the constitution.

So writes Conrad Mbewe in a slightly reworked version of an older lecture on Zambia as a Christian nation. 20 years after the then-President declared it to be such, Conrad returns to the issue and gives some excellent insights into the relationship between the church and the state, and the roles and relationships of individual Christians in and between each, which we would do well to heed, especially with our Prime Minister recently suggesting that he wants Britain to be a Christian country.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2011 at 22:00

Advice on moving on

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Should a pastor ever answer a call to move to another church? Within our Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia, there are only two of us older pastors who have not moved churches yet. If any of the others wrote such a blog post I am sure some readers in our church circles would think it is self-justification. Since the other older pastor does not have a blog, it just hit me this morning that I am best placed to clear the air on this subject—at least for the Zambian Reformed Baptist constituency.

So saying, Conrad Mbewe writes another Letter from Kabwata about the hows and whys of pastoral moves. While some of it is evidently coloured by local concerns, there is a much wisdom and straight talking here.

UPDATE: A friend graciously contacted me off-blog to query the apparent blanket endorsement that I had given to the post above, and prompted a more thoughtful comment.

First of all, I do appreciate particular elements of Conrad’s post. Having had to work through issues relating to calls to other congregations, this is no theoretical matter to me, and I was grateful for Conrad’s robust response to some of the more unhelpful opinions bandied around at such times. For example, I can find no justification in Scripture for the notion of the pastor-church relationship as in any way analogous to a marriage (even taking into account the fact that the Great Shepherd of the sheep is also the Bridegroom to his bride; I do not think that the second illustration transfers to the under-shepherd of a local church), and to use that analogy insinuates a degree of unfaithfulness and betrayal on the part of the pastor in question and ‘the other woman [church].’ It is not a matter of a permanent and indissoluble bond, though that is not for one moment to undermine its durability or dismiss its significance.

Furthermore, I appreciate Conrad’s discussion of that sense of “inward disturbance” – a concatenation of outward and inward prompts suggesting that the ultimate Overseer of the church may be shaking you loose from one place with a view to moving you to another – and the need to consider it carefully, taking counsel from trusted friends. I do think that when a soldier receives a posting order from his commanding officer, he is to obey it.

I also believe that the matter of a righteous investment of a particular man’s gifts and graces is a central concern. We only have so many (so few!) talents to invest for our Master, and it would be a sin, perhaps arising from a false humility or a lazy cowardice, to turn one’s back upon the opportunity for that investment. A man should invest all he has wherever he is, and if his gifts end up making room for him elsewhere, then that must be taken into account in considering the time and place of his investments.

In addition, I do think that there are occasions on which the financial care of the pastor and his family may be taken into account. Of course, it is possible for this to take place on an entirely carnal level, and I am far from persuaded that mere financial reward should ever drive a man’s consideration. However, when a church is neglectful of a man – the 1689 Confession states that “it is incumbent on the Churches to whom they Minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in Secular Affairs; and may also be capable of exercising Hospitality toward others; and this is required by the Law of Nature, and by the Express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel, should live of the Gospel” – then it may be part of his consideration of how he is to fulfil the mandate he has to “provide for his own,” though financial hardships may be part of the price paid for faithfulness in his charge, either because of non-culpable inability on the part of those whom he serves or sinful culpability by opponents of the gospel who use poverty as a weapon against a faithful man.

I was also intrigued by Conrad’s treatment of the potential breaking either of a man or of a church (or a mutually assured destruction) when a man’s usefulness in a certain place comes to an end. While he suggests that this may be because of stubbornness and resistance to the truth on the part of the church, it might also be because of a change of conviction on the part of the pastor that prevents him from continuing with integrity (for example, a man pastoring a baptistic congregation who comes to paedobaptistic convictions, or vice versa, without the congregation shifting with him with sincerity and without browbeating), or indeed a decline of capacity (many men have built up a church gradually, and then gradually dismantled it as their gifts for public ministry decline, with no-one who loves them enough to point out that the time has come to reconsider their position, or perhaps with not the humility to accept it). I agree that a faithful man must consider whether or not he is still able to be of any use, or whether a consistent fruitlessness because of an unwillingness to heed the Word of God may be the occasion on which he shakes the dust from his feet and moves on.

With all that said, I am compelled not to go along with every aspect of my older and wiser brother’s assessment. I wonder if Conrad’s view of the pastorate as opposed to eldership may be informing his view somewhat here, as well as a genuine failure to recognise that his particular gifts have given him a wider ministry than others might and should have. Conrad’s view of the pastor seems to be that he is first and foremost a servant “in the universal church,” a calling that cannot be limited to a local congregation: “it is important to see your pastor as, first of all, God’s servant to the wider church.” All a local church does is to provide a platform upon which his particular gifts are recognised and operate.

It is in this respect that I must part company with Conrad to a degree. It seems to me that, Biblically speaking, the local church is the very sphere in which pastoral gifts (whether those of a preacher or of an elder who teaches and shepherds without having a vocational ministry) are assessed and validated. Not least, there is a danger that a man recognised in one sphere might become a sort of roaming pastor or preacher-at-large without any ties or accountability to the church of Christ. How can you have a shepherd without sheep? A man is made a pastor and preacher by Christ and recognised as such by and within a local church (whether they then use his gifts primarily within that congregation or recognise that his gifts require some sort of expression without that immediate local body). There does not seem to be sufficient weight given to the local church in Conrad’s model. I am not suggesting that the pastor’s convictions must always and only be governed by the corporate opinion or depth of feeling, but – in addition to knowing the mind of Christ and the convictions of the man – there are also the attitudes and actions of the two congregations involved which must be taken into account.

My attention was helpfully drawn back to the experience of Benjamin Beddome, pastor of Bourton-on-the-Water Baptist Church in the mid eighteenth century. Having considered an appeal to him to quit his church and take the pastorate of another he refused. Robert Oliver records, “Beddome’s final refusal is interesting. . . . He appealed to the writings of the great Puritan John Owen, who declared that ‘such removals only are lawful, which are with the free consent of the churches concerned, and with the advice of other churches or their elders with whom they walk in communion.’ Beddome added: ‘if the prospect of greater usefulness is in itself a sufficient plea for the removal which you press, then it would be impossible for churches of a lower rank ever to be secure of the continuance of their pastors.’”

Beddome consequently wrote to the seeking congregation saying: “If my people would have consented to my removal (though I should have had to sacrifice much on account of the great affection I bear them) yet I should have made no scruple of accepting your call. But, as they absolutely refuse it, the will of the Lord be done. I am determined that I will not violently rend myself from them, for I would much rather honour God in a much lower station in which he hath placed me, than intrude myself into a higher without his direction” (History of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 26-27, see also 41, 47-48).

In all honesty, I cannot find that this is, in itself, a Scriptural absolute. As I have searched the Scriptures myself, it seems to me that there is a definite moving and directing of the Holy Spirit as the Head of the church manages his Father’s holy household in all its particulars. There is also a degree of consensus that often develops within and across the parties interested, but there is also a great deal of scope given for wisdom given from above to be exercised by all those involved. In short, I do not think it is ever an easy decision, but I hope that – where the Lord is genuinely at work – there will not only be a growing conviction on the part of the individual man that this is the will of God for him, but that divine direction will be received and acted upon by the churches involved, even though one might (hopefully, should) do so with great sadness and some resignation, and the other will do so with joy and relief and expectation.

So, all that to say, thank you, Conrad, for a stimulating post, but I hope you do not mind a little push back from a little brother. And thank you to my other friend who prompted me to make all this more explicit. Another helpful perspective might be gained by reading through David Murray’s post on “Why I left my congregation,” which includes a pointer to a book which I hope to read before too long: Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell (DayOne).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2011 at 21:47

As fallen and frail as anyone else

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Conrad Mbewe tells us the sad story of a pastor who fell into sin and – overwhelmed by shame – took his own life. He draws out a single, primary lesson:

I have only one appeal: Pray for your pastors. The devil is real and there is only one that is stronger than him—not your pastor but God. Satan knows that if he can strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Hence, he targets pastors with his most potent missiles. Many Christians are oblivious to this fact. They tend to simply admire their pastors as if they were super humans. They project their childhood invincible comic heroes (Spider Man, Mr America, etc.) upon their pastors and simply watch them as they fight sin with heroic energy in the community and in the church. They forget that pastors are also fallen creatures.

I will be the first one to confess that there are times when my struggle with my own fallen nature is so vicious that I wish I were still a private unknown Christian plying out my trade as a mining engineer in the Zambian copper mines. I would be less overwhelmed by my failures and would not carry so many people down with me. So, I end this blog post with an impassioned plea that all those who know me (and especially the Christians in my own church) should pray for me to run my race well to the very end. As Paul pleaded with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:25), I say, “Brethren, pray for us!”

Pastors are not super creatures but fallen creatures, not uber-Christians but frail and dependent saints. I heard of the story told by a man not given to fancy and exaggeration of how he knew of Satan-worshippers pleading with their dark lord for the downfall of pastors, to the destruction of their families and the devastation of their churches. It was for this reason that I wrote in A Portrait of Paul that if

you find faithful men full of the Spirit of Christ, diligent in the discharge of their stewardship from God, then esteem them, love them, help them, encourage them, be open to them, and never stop praying for them. There is a real sense in which the shepherds of Christ’s flock wear an insignia that marks them out as overseers. In the same way that snipers in combat identify officers by their badges and pick them off first to create disorder and confusion in the ranks, so Satan’s snipers will seek to pick off those who wear the insignia of the shepherd, knowing that it is still a functioning principle that if you can strike the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. Bless God that the Great Shepherd is beyond their reach, but be warned that the undershepherds are exposed still and daily expose themselves by the very nature of the work that they do on the front lines in Christ’s great battle with sin in the flesh, in the world, and from the devil.

The devil passionately hates Christ’s pastors. If he can make them stumble, he knows that more often than not others will stumble with them. Your faithful pastors are marked men. For their sake and for Christ’s, daily stand in the gap for them; pray that their faith may not fail them.

Every tale told of a man, a brother in arms, fallen in this way, ought to bring to the hearts of God’s under-shepherds the cry, “Lord, keep me!” and an answering prayer in the hearts of all those who are led by those men.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 November 2011 at 20:34

Elders and pastors

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I appreciated this post from Conrad Mbewe in which he seeks to give a brief defence of the distinctive use of the terms “elder” and “pastor” within an eldership. He concludes,

. . . let me make it clear that my goal was not to convince anyone who already holds to the position that all elders are pastors and all pastors are elders, and that, therefore, the terms should be used interchangeably. Because that was not my aim, I have not answered the usual questions that arise from the position I hold on to. Rather, my purpose was to simply show that those of us who see things differently do have some biblical premise on which we do so. We are not simply upholding unbiblical practice and tradition.

We believe that a healthy eldership in an already established church ought to comprise those who claim to have the call of God upon their lives to the preaching ministry and those who simply express willingness and a desire to serve as overseers. Whereas the Bible uses the terms “overseer” and “elder” interchangeably, it seems to leave the term “pastor” to those with a very distinct call to the preaching ministry—like apostle, prophet, and evangelist. I hope I have also shown that to argue that the Bible uses titles merely on the basis of what people do in a general way in the church would render other titles meaningless. And finally, please remember that the issue of titles is not a hill that I am willing to die on.

Personally, I imagine that – while I would hold that elders/pastors/overseers are the one office, with the names employed substantially interchangeably – in practice the distinction that I would make in terms of gift and function within the pastorate/eldership would put me substantially in the same place as my brother. Frankly, as long as the distinction does not lead to a downgrade in the responsibility and authority of those deemed “elders” as opposed to “pastors” I should hope that little if anything would be lost. However, I also recognise that the lack of a distincton can lead to a downgrade in responding to and embracing a definite and defining call from the Lord, endorsed by the church, to preach the word as a matter of vocation, and that would be tragic.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 November 2011 at 08:29

Some book bits

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I am giving a little time at present to editing what I hope will be a shortly-forthcoming volume from Reformation Heritage Books. American usage has dictated a very subtle change of title – “You better drop that hyphen if you know what’s good for you, punk!” – and so we are now working on The Brokenhearted Evangelist. In addition to John MacArthur’s kind commendation, Conrad Mbewe has also been kind enough to offer this endorsement:

Jeremy Walker’s book is in the tradition of the Puritan classic, Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted, but this is more Jeremy Walker’s Alarm to the Converted. It is a pleasant surprise, coming as it does from a part of our world where Christianity has largely entered a “garrison” (bunker) mode. The book, based on Psalm 51:13, is not meant simply to teach us about evangelism; it demands a verdict. He enlists the help of the great soul winners in history to reinforce his appeals. Even before I finished reading the book, I was already asking myself whether my heart was truly broken about the lost around me – and if it is, what am I doing about it?

Furthermore, there may be some assistance required – perhaps in the form of a competition – in selecting an appropriate cover for the book. More news on that as we get closer to publication, I hope.

Finally, I intend to finish the short reviews of pastoral books before long (and already have a couple more to add to those completed). Neither have I forgotten the promised competition in celebration of the initial completion of the list. Part of the delay is because I am waiting to identify and receive the prizes. So, please continue to watch this space, and we will see what we can come up with.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 October 2011 at 10:16

Zambia: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

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Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

All too soon, our time with the brothers in Ndola had come to an end. We headed out early Friday morning to catch our flight south to Lusaka for a last stint of work. The flight out was as good as the one in, with an exemplary landing. James Williamson, who had invited us to come for the work, met us at the airport. As he and his family had a houseful of young people from the church that day, we were invited to head out to a game park for the day, both as a break for ourselves and as a way of freeing up the Williamsons for their day’s work.

We spent the balance of that Saturday in the stunning surroundings of Chaminuka Park, taking an open bus around the reserve, going on a horse ride, touring a lake in a small boat, taking a stroll through the bush, and enjoying a meal. We also got to meet the owners of the park on account of my being the spitting image of a younger friend of the lady (we rich, gorgeous, high society types often get mistaken for one another!). We saw all manner of antelope, hyenas, giraffes, ostriches, elephants, pied kingfishers, locusts – God’s marvellous work in the world was evident on every side. After a fairly full week we were both glad for the opportunity to kick back for a few hours and enjoy the blessings God has given us. I think both of us rather wished we could have shared the day with our wives.

Toward the end of the day, James arrived once more to take us home, where Alan and I were bunking together in another outbuilding, just round the corner from Katryn Belke. Katryn, who blogs at Ndazyoka, is out in Zambia working primarily with orphans in the compounds, the shanty towns that are found in all too many places around Zambia. Kat had been in Alan’s congregation some years before, and he had already spent a little time seeing her work. Both of us, while in Ndola, had actually had the opportunity to travel out into the compound where the church there has an active interest. Kat and Maureen, who – together with Megan Williamson – undertake this orphan ministry in Lusaka, had travelled up during our week of teaching in the college to meet up with Lister, the lady who runs the show in Ndola. They kindly took us out (one trip each while the other was teaching) to see some of the work that they are doing. We hear a great deal about ‘compassion fatigue,’ but it was instructive to remember that in all the gospel records we never fail to see Christ being “moved with compassion” by the genuine suffering of men and women around him. Sin and its effects ought always to move our hearts, and it was painfully evident as we moved from family to family around the compounds, handing out blankets that churches had provided, passing on Bibles from sponsors in the UK, giving out sweets that had been purchased to give these children a treat. The level of need was staggering, the basics of life so hard to come by, the threats and dangers on every side all too evident. I went away profoundly sobered, newly mindful of how much I have been given and how little thankful I am for it and how slow I am to use it for the good of others. Another problem is not so much compassion fatigue as compassion blindness: it is very easy to see and feel the evident and pressing needs ‘over there,’ but I was reminded of how many needs there are close to home. It is too easy to applaud these faithful women from a distance, to visit and grieve as I indulge in a little light compassion tourism, and then to come home and forget the different but no less real miseries and sorrows and poverties just around the corner in my own town.

With all this already in mind, it was good to see Kat again, and I was beginning to look forward to the Lord’s day. With the evening already booked for Kabwata Baptist Church, where Conrad Mbewe is a pastor, James has given me the opportunity to go out and preach in one of the compound churches in the morning. He had asked one of his students at the Lusaka Ministerial College (a younger brother to the Copperbelt training system) if he would be willing to have me preach, and I had been accepted. Feeling somewhat out of my depth, I requested a travelling companion, and so a delightful brother by the name of Andrew turned up to accompany me. We hopped into a taxi and started moving out through the city, through the parts that could have been any city in the world, then out past the quarries on the outskirts where women crouched breaking rocks into various sizes with handheld hammers, past the massive soft-drink factories, past the open-air markets full of loud haggling. We turned into the compound and threaded our way through crowds of people down to the church to meet Pastor Nsongu Phiri of the Living Gospel World Mission Church. Their building is simple, a long single room that they divide into classrooms during the week. The singing had already begun as we made our way in, and it continued for almost ninety minutes, as various groups in the congregation took it in turns to sing praises to God.

Evident poverty had not stopped these saints breaking out their Sunday best, and they gave their all in worship, sometimes quite literally. There were a series of offerings: the first Lord’s day includes a pastor’s offering, where all manner of practical helps are given for the minister and his family, including clothes to wear and food to eat. There is also a hope to build a larger building, as well as other regular giving and works of mercy. After these opening elements, I was invited to preach. With Pastor Phiri my interpreter (for most of these brothers and sisters did not speak English sufficiently well to follow me alone), I preached from John 5.24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” To preach such eternal riches to those so poor in the world was a great privilege, even though I had to adapt a little. So used were they to responding “Amen!” that I had to point out that my double “Amen!” in explaining Jesus’ words was not an invitation for affirmation, but a phrase to be found in the text. The Spirit blessed Pastor Phiri and me with an immediate rapport in the translation, and the congregation listened attentively and eagerly and responsively. Afterward I stood at the door while the whole congregation filed past, shaking my hand and taking the next place, until everyone had shaken everyone else’s hand. I was then ushered into the office (an unfinished brick building) where a feast was awaiting me: a meal the likes of which I was persuaded few in the congregation would enjoy. Receiving hospitality was joyfully done, but one rather holds back when one suspects that anything left over will be devoured by hungry children afterward. They even paid me: I received a chicken in a plastic bag (not just a kindness in itself, but a symbolic token of warm appreciation and heartfelt generosity) and an envelope full of notes quickly and quietly collected after the sermon. These were the smallest notes in the Zambian denomination. These warm-hearted saints, having already given and given, gave again so that I might take away with me about £8 ($10) as an expression of their thanks. I have often received far more, but I do not believe I have ever been given as much. All of a sudden, the widow and her two mites seemed very near at hand.

I returned to the Williamson’s home clutching my chicken. Sadly, I had no chicken-sized sunglasses with which to try and smuggle my bird through customs and on to the aeroplane, so I was forced to kiss my chicken goodbye (not literally, of course, that would be distasteful) and ask Megan to ensure it found a home where it would do good (probably in someone’s stomach).

A pleasant afternoon followed before we headed out in the evening (the brothers there meet earlier in the day than I am used to, gathering for evening worship at about 4pm and eating afterward – a nice arrangement) to Kabwata Baptist Church. Conrad Mbewe had left for Togo, and I was filling his rather substantial shoes. The evening congregations in Zambia, like many of those in the UK, are far smaller than the mornings, but there were still a couple of hundred people present in this growing church. I preached from the experience of Lot in Sodom, seeking to draw lessons for bringing the gospel to those around us, and it seemed to be well received. Afterward I met a couple of friends from the Ndola module again (who had travelled up from Lusaka) before heading back to the Williamsons’ friendly home for a bit of late night snack and banter, before finally heading for bed.

Alan and I slept soundly, got up early, and headed to the airport with James for our respective flights home. It was, for both of us, a delightful, stirring and instructive introduction to Africa generally, and to Zambia in particular. I have kindly been invited to return next year to preach at the national youth conference of the Zambian Reformed Baptists, and am already looking forward to doing so, if arrangements can be made.

I came home freshly conscious that any (post-)colonial arrogance that Westerners may entertain toward brothers and sisters in other parts of the world is grievously misplaced. We have much to learn from each other. I hope that in the future I may again “be encouraged together with [them] by the mutual faith both of [them] and me” (Rom. 1.12), returning home with lessons for myself and for the church which I serve in the UK, and with a renewed sense of the advancing kingdom of Christ across the globe.

Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 June 2011 at 11:50

Zambia: Copperbelt Ministerial College

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Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

As mentioned in part one, Alan Dunn was in Zambia to teach the doctrine of salvation, and I was there to introduce the Gospels and the Acts. We began on Monday morning, enjoying a slightly slower start to allow the men travelling a distance to arrive. They began to trickle in, and slowly we reached the point at which we had enough present to begin. After singing and praying, we got down to business.

I was first up, with three morning sessions, in which I gave a brief introduction to introduction, before looking at the intersection of the three cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – which created the God-ordained environment of the New Testament. Then we headed straight into Matthew’s Gospel. As we came toward the end of the allotted time, the excellent college administrator, Katongo, slipped me a note: “No food. Keep going.” I did, enabling me to get ahead of the game for the first morning. When the food arrived, I had finished Matthew’s Gospel, giving me a good start for the week. After an excellent meal (you could not fault the quality, only the timing), Alan got to grips with soteriology, hogging the blackboard with a diagram of such intricacy that I felt it would be churlish to wipe it off and make him re-create it every day. He managed three of his four planned sessions before the day drew to a close.

Heading back to our lodgings, we got ready to head out to the home of one of the church families. These were delightful evenings, and this was the pattern of our week. Each night one of the families invited us into their home, hosted us graciously, spoke to us kindly, and fed us splendidly. We would arrive back at the Phiri home afterward, negotiate the guard dogs, and get fairly soon to bed.

The next morning would begin with us up at around 0600 or 0630. I would head for the bathroom, and do laps round the bath, dashing repeatedly under the cold shower to allow for lathering and rinsing. Meanwhile, Brother Dunn would prepare a boiled egg or four. I would emerge gleaming, we would partake of some cereal and eggs, and I would clean up while he performed his ablutions. Then we would be about ready for the day. Picked up promptly by one of the young ladies from the church who lived nearby, we drove through Ndola to the church building, to be met by our eager students, who realised by day three that we intended to start on time unless genuinely providentially hindered. After a brief devotional time of singing and prayer, we would forge ahead, alternating mornings and afternoons on the two topics, and generally getting in about eight hours of fairly intense lecturing every day.

[You may need to click through to see the video if you are reading this on an RSS feed]

I honestly could not think of forty men in the UK who would gather for such a week four times yearly, and give themselves so intensely and earnestly to study, their main complaint at the end of the week being that insufficient time had been given to the teaching and subsequent discussion. Each day closed, where possible, with a brief question and answer session, in which the questions demonstrated that these blokes were really wrestling with the material.

As the week drew on, Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of Grace RBC, Northrise, arrived back from leave, and it was good to meet him. Lazarus Phiri dropped in a couple of times to give us the once over as we taught. Toward the end of the week, the Phiris invited us back to their home, with a special guest for the evening: Conrad Mbewe was passing through (heading for the wedding which he discussed here), and he and Lazarus Phiri go way back. So we enjoyed an evening listening to these two men reminisce and banter, and chatting about all manner of things.

On Friday, we arrived for our final two sessions each, and both of us dropped a couple of lectures from the planned fifteen, having had to manage our material around the late and occasionally extended lunches. The men gave us some splendid gifts – sandals for our wives, and chitenge shirts for us (Alan’s was zebra print, mine adorned with calabashes) – and expressed warm appreciation. We ate our last meal together, and posed for a few photos.

Alan and I then headed back to the Phiris once more, taking a couple of hours to get our stuff together before spending our final evening in Ndola with Kabwe Kabwe and his family, an enjoyable and relaxing end to the week before heading down to Kabwata on the Saturday. Of that, and of life in the compounds, more will follow . . .

Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 27 May 2011 at 16:44

More on “A Portrait of Paul”

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For those not yet bored rigid with the topic, we continue to make progress with A Portrait of Paul (more information).

Monergism Books are now offering it, in addition to Reformation Heritage Books, Westminster Bookstore, Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and Grace Books International.  No news yet on a British co-publisher or distributor.  Perhaps a case of no prophet being accepted in his own country!

People I did not even know would read the book are now endorsing the book, which is encouraging.  Here is Conrad Mbewe‘s assessment:

When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 May 2010 at 09:26

“A Portrait of Paul”

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It seems that the time has come to break cover and shuffle into the foetid pool.  The book mentioned a few days ago is now available in the US for pre-publication orders from Reformation Heritage Books or Westminster Bookstore or Monergism Books or Christian Book Distributors (CBD) or Grace Books International.

Amazon.co.uk and Evangelical Press are now stocking the item.

A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ

Rob Ventura & Jeremy Walker

Blurb: What does a true pastor look like, and what constitutes a faithful ministry? How can we identify the life and labors of one called by God to serve in the church of Jesus Christ? To address these questions, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker examine how the apostle Paul describes his pastoral relation to the people of God in Colossians 1:24–2:5. By discussing these essential attitudes, qualities, and characteristics of a faithful minister of Christ, A Portrait of Paul provides gospel ministers an example of what they should be, and demonstrates for churches the kind of pastors they will seek if they desire men after God’s own heart.

Chapters:

  1. The Joy of Paul’s Ministry
  2. The Focus of Paul’s Ministry
  3. The Hardships of Paul’s Ministry
  4. The Origin of Paul’s Ministry
  5. The Essence of Paul’s Ministry
  6. The Subject of Paul’s Ministry (sample)
  7. The Goal of Paul’s Ministry
  8. The Strength of Paul’s Ministry
  9. The Conflict of Paul’s Ministry
  10. The Warnings of Paul’s Ministry

Endorsements:

John MacArthur: The apostle Paul has always been a hero whom I look to as a model for my ministry. His unrelenting faithfulness in the worst kinds of trials is a remarkable example to every pastor and missionary. In the midst of suffering, hardship, and (in the end) the abandonment of his own friends and fellow workers, Paul remained steadfast, dynamic, and utterly devoted to Christ. This invaluable study of Paul’s life from Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker is a wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examination of Paul’s self-sacrifice and his unfaltering service to the church. It will both motivate and encourage you, especially if you’re facing trials, opposition, or discouragement in your service for Christ.

Geoff Thomas: For the first two decades of my life as a Christian, I had an abundance of role models who seemed to enflesh for me how a minister of God should live. I realize now that I even took their presence and consistent example for granted. I looked forward to the future under the protection of their mature lives of patience, wisdom, and many kindnesses. The labors of most of those men have come to an end and today I face another situation. There are now numbers of fine younger men in training and starting out on their own ministries. What grace and zeal they have, but there appears to be less role models than the company with which I was favored. What Walker and Ventura have done in this splendid book is to return to the fountainhead of Christianity, to the apostle Paul with the authority the Lord Christ gave to him, his wisdom and compassion, and examine the apostle’s relationship with one congregation, how he advised and exhorted them concerning the demands of discipleship and their relationship with fellow believers. Paul became Christ’s servant and mouthpiece to them and he has left us with a timeless inspired example. He exhorted his readers more than once to be followers of him as he followed God. With a refreshing contemporary style, and with humble submission to the Scripture, these two ministers have given to us a role model for pastoral life. This is a very helpful book and a means of grace to me.

Paul Washer: This work on the Christian ministry is a clarion call to true devotion and piety in the pastorate. The theology is pure and the language is as powerful as it is beautiful. I pray that every pastor and congregant might take up this book and read it. It will hold a place in my library beside Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, Bridges’ Christian Ministry, and Spurgeon’s Lectures. I will refer to it often. It will serve as a great antidote against all that might cause my heart to stray from Christ’s call.

Conrad Mbewe: When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Steven J. Lawson: The greatest need in churches today is for godly men to shepherd the flock of God. To be sure, no church will rise any higher than the level of its spiritual leaders. Like priest, like people. To this end, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have done an exceptional job in providing a model for pastoral ministry, drawn from the extraordinary example of the apostle Paul. This book is built upon careful exegesis, proper interpretation, penetrating insight, and challenging application. Herein is profiled the kind of minister every church so desperately needs and what every true minister should desire to become.

Derek W. H. Thomas: In this dual-authored portrait of Paul as a minister of the gospel, Ventura and Walker have captured the very essence of ministry. On every page, we are forced to reflect upon the dimensions of apostolic ministry and urged to comply. Packed with exposition and application of the finest sort, these pages urge gospel-focused, Christ-centered, God-exalting, Spirit-empowered, self-denying ministry. I warmly recommend it.

Carl R. Trueman: This deceptively easy to read book consists of a series of reflection on Col.1:24 to 2:5 by two experienced pastors. In an age where there is much focus on technical aspects of ministry, Ventura and Walker analyse the topic in terms, first, of call and character, and then of the existential urgency with which the great doctrines of the faith are grasped by those called to the pastorate. Intended not just to be read but to be a practical guide in helping churches think through the role of the pastor, each chapter ends with a series of pointed questions, to Christians in general and to pastors in particular, which are designed to focus the minds of all concerned on what the priorities of the pastorate, and of candidates for the pastorate should be. This book is a biblical rebuke to modern trends, a challenge to those who think they may be called to the ministry, and a reality check for all believers everywhere.

Joseph A. Pipa Jr: Ventura’s and Walker’s A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ makes an unique contribution to the literature on pastoral theology. Rather than approach their subject topically, they unfold Paul’s heart for and practice of ministry through an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5.  The authors balance careful and experimental exposition with challenging application–addressing both fellow Christians and pastors.  All serious Christians, as well as pastors, will profit from this book; it is intellectually satisfying, experimentally challenging, and practically stimulating.

Philip H. Towner: As the diverse churches of the world have demonstrated throughout history, there is no better place to turn, when confronted with the complexities of pastoral leadership, than the Scriptures.  Each church in each generation must revisit this resource and view it anew through its particular historical, theological, cultural and political lens. The authors of A Portrait of Paul engage precisely in this task. With Colossians as their main laboratory, they probe the text and engage Paul in a conversation about pastoral ministry—its priorities, foundation, and potential—and a profile of pastoral mission and leadership emerges.  All who read this book will discover an invitation to join this rich conversation and take away numerous fresh perspectives to challenge and shape their thinking.

Sam Waldron: What is A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ? It is, first, the effort of two young pastors to teach themselves and their churches what it means to be a true minister of Christ. It is, second, an exposition of Colossians 1:24–2:5 which attempts to understand how Paul’s ministry gives them and their churches a paradigm of faithful ministry. It is, third, biblical exposition of Scripture in the best historic and Reformed tradition with careful exegesis, sound doctrine, popular appeal and practical application. As such, it is a very challenging book to read as Rob and Jeremy lay before us, for instance, the selflessness and suffering true ministry requires. It is, however, a good, useful, and profitable book to read. It can, and I hope it will, do much good!

Robert R. Gonzales Jr.: Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker’s A Portrait of Paul is biblically sound, pointedly practical, and sagaciously simple. In addition to an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5, they provide the reader with a host of citations from other pertinent texts of Scriptures as well as judicious quotes from past and contemporary authors, all of which help to trace out the contours of Paul’s life and ministry. Each chapter concludes with practical applications directed both to fellow pastors (or aspiring pastors) and also to fellow Christians. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who would seek to imitate Paul as Paul sought to imitate Christ.

Pre-order in the US at RHB or WTS.

Further information to follow as it becomes available.

Christian weddings

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Conrad Mbewe provides some interesting perspectives on Christian weddings in Zambia.  While there are clearly cultural nuances to be taken into account, the fundamental principles seem to be widely applicable:

It is clear to me that today’s young people need to address themselves to the issue of how they bear witness to their relatives and friends during their weddings. As long as they want to be as worldly as possible, they will not make their non-Christian friends and relatives see how real their Christian faith is. They will lose a vital opportunity to show them the difference that Jesus has made in their lives. A previous generation fought its battles and bequeathed to them their liberties. But I fear that today’s young people are using the liberties won for them by their predecessors to indulge themselves in worldly pleasures. I tremble to think of the kind of Christianity this generation of young people is passing on to their successors. Judged by the little I have seen at recent wedding receptions, the prospect is frightening!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at 09:11

The LION migrates

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LION of Zambia

Some time ago I blogged about the Williamson family heading out to Zambia to support the churches there, particularly in the matter of ministerial training.  This week it is our privilege as a church to host the whole family en route to Lusaka, where they hope to set up home.

James Williamson gave a report in Sunday School (combined for the adults and children), an updated version of the videos below.  He then preached powerfully and heart-warmingly from Revelation 5 on the Lamb who was worthy to open the scroll and administer God’s plans and purposes for the world.  The family are trying to get a few days of R&R in while they are here before heading out to Africa later this week.

The LION of Zambia website gives more information, and Megan Williamson, Pastor James’ wife, is blogging the family experience.  For a voice from within, you can follow Conrad Mbewe’s blog.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at 06:49

“Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church”

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Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church by Martin Downes

Christian Focus, 2009 (247pp, pbk)

As a reasonably dedicated follower of Ferguson, the misguided counsel given by the normally erudite Scot in the foreword to this volume left me profoundly uncomfortable:

So, put some logs, or coal, or peat, on the fire; make (or fix) yourself a pot of tea or coffee; settle back into your favorite chair – and spend an evening or a rainy afternoon in the company of Martin Downes (11-12).

All well and good, Sinclair, but I read this book during the warmest day of the year in the UK so far.  Whatever one thinks about the British weather (which Prof. Ferguson knows well), I can give assurance that roaring fires and warm drinks are far from what is required under such circumstances, and you can wait a good four or five days for a rainy afternoon during some of our summers.

Most of the other advice in this book you can safely take.

My only minor gripes are a number of editing glitches, and the fact that almost all the quotes in the book come without references, which can be frustrating if you wish to read more, or put the words in context.  Neither is there an index.

Risking the Truth (Downes)Those slight grievances aside, this is an outstanding book, characterised by clear thinking and straight talking.  Its basic premise is simple: the compiler, Martin Downes, conducted a series of interviews with some well-known senior statesmen of Christ’s church, most of whom are serving God in the UK or the US, with the exception of Conrad Mbewe (Zambia) – his environment reminds the reader that different situations involve different challenges, and we should beware an oversimplification of ‘the issues facing us today.’  Each contributor was asked questions concerning false teaching and flawed living with a view to instructing today’s church about prevalent errors and heresies.  The conversations focus on appropriate ways of handling and responding to these poisons.  Downes sets the scene in his introduction, explaining the apostolic concern that false teaching and false teachers be identified and addressed, lest damage be done to the body of Jesus Christ.  There follows a brief overview of the nature, origin, attraction, effects and persistence of heresy, setting us up for the interviews themselves.

As one reads through these dialogues, a number of distinctions become apparent.  Some of these are reflective of the character of the contributor.  Although there is often a pleasantly chatty, even casual tone to all the conversations, some interviews have longer, more developed answers and others quite terse responses.  In only a few of the conversations is there much technical language, but in general the language is clear and popular.

Other differences have to do with the nature of the interview.  In some, various specialists are quizzed on particular topics: Ligon Duncan deals almost exclusively with the New Perspective; Kim Riddlebarger addresses eschatology; Gary Johnson is quizzed about Norman Shepherd’s initial exposure and subsequent effect; Robert Peterson discusses the doctrine of hell; and, Greg Beale answers questions on inerrancy.

Other interviews are more general, and often have the same basic framework (and even identical questions).  Sometimes, the interviewee’s individual concerns provide shifts of focus; on other occasions, perceptive questions highlight a particular area of expertise.  In these more wide-ranging discussions it is the varied emphasis and nuance of answer that interests: there are few outright contradictions of other contributors, but a variety of perspective that is illuminating.

In reading, one senses care, insight and structure in the questions – whether they are more generic or directed at specific issues – with a view to drawing out relevant and helpful answers.  The reader is reminded that wise men can differ.  For example, some advocate that the pastor take pains to keep abreast of theological developments and deviations, others dismiss making too much of such a practice.  Sometimes shared principle gives rise to subtly-differentiated practice, demonstrating legitimate variety as to how one goes about the business of feeding the sheep while driving off the wolves.

However, there are also clear patterns in the book.  Along the way there are some brilliant gems to be collected, pithy nuggets of truth dropped almost casually into the individual conversation, including a good number of practical, pastoral counsels to be gleaned.  While these random jewels are worth collecting, it is the developing seams of emphasis that are more worth tracing.  Several notes are sounded repeatedly: the importance of firmly grasping the cardinal doctrines of Christian orthodoxy; the value of the historic confessions of faith that have served past generations so well as frameworks of truth; the need of clear conviction regarding the Scriptures as the very word of the living God; the helpfulness of a genuine historical awareness and insight – a clear and sound sense of where the church has come from and what she has already encountered along the way; the significance of the local church, and the part that membership of a healthy local congregation plays in preserving truth, and preserving from error; the value of clear, systematic, expository ministry.  That these notes chime so often, in different language, in different contexts, from different men, in response to different questions, suggests the weight that ought to be attached to these issues.

With regard to error itself, there are also valuable patterns to observe.  It is interesting that only Conrad Mbewe (with R. Scott Clark receiving an honourable mention) highlights the issue of charismatic teaching: is this an indication of a change of stance or emphasis further west?  Has the prominence of ‘Reformed Charismatics’ in the resurgence of ‘the New Calvinism’ had an effect?  For most of these men, the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision are at the forefront of the issues that need to be confronted in the church today (including on the ground in the life of local churches).  These issues, and the related web of errors that sit within and alongside them, crop up repeatedly.  What distresses without particularly surprising is how many of the cardinal doctrines of historic Reformed Christianity are once more considered up for grabs.  These are not new battles, though, and much is to be learned from those who have gone before.

Another thread concerns the shortness of the distance from orthodoxy to heterodoxy: no chasm this, but rather a hair’s breadth.  Falsehood is most effective when it is perverted or exaggerated truth.  The ease with which it is possible to slip into error is a constant warning, and the necessity of sometimes fine and accurate distinctions is always before us.

One helpful emphasis concerns the purpose of confronting error: it is not point-scoring, nor scalp-hunting.  Rather, we are to seek, in love, to win back the wanderers.  While we find a fundamental hope that all can be recovered, there is a note of practical pessimism as several experienced men lament how few individuals and institutions, once they have left the old paths, have been recovered to them.  Alongside of this is another warning note: the dangers of pride on account of an orthodox reputation, and therefore the need to walk closely with God if we are not to slip into error or heresy ourselves, or to become calloused and crass, making ourselves more an aggressive watchdog than a righteous watchman, notching our belts over how many errorists we blew out of the water with our last sermonic broadside.

That brings us to the final chapters, in which Martin Downes returns to warn against making the hunt for heresy the defining feature of any ministry.  This is developed in a brief treatment of 1 Timothy, reflecting on dealing with false teachers and teaching.  In the face of errors connected with revelation and interpretation, Downes marshals the apostolic evidence for making our ministries substantively positive.  Singular truth, identified and displayed in all its beauty, by its very nature exposes and condemns multiform and manifold error.  Here, the identification and exposure of error becomes almost incidental, natural, appropriate, and balanced.  Constant controversy is a bad school for character development: far better to bring the truth always to light, and let that light fall as required into the dark places.  John Owen concludes with typically wise and weighty counsel: it is one thing to be against heresies, but it is essential that we be for truth, not in a merely intellectual sense, but with a true apprehension of that truth in our minds and hearts:

Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in out [sic] own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with Him (247).

There are few volumes around that have this book’s distinctive character and purpose.  An impressive variety of men of God bend their collective minds to a single concern of broad relevance and great importance, and – prompted by some careful probing – give us the concentrated fruit of their thinking in clear and robust terms.  It is a repository of much wisdom, but of a certain kind.  You will not find here a Wallace sword 2catalogue of errors and heresies with cross-referenced responses.  Neither will you find all-out attacks on particular issues in the church.  What you will find is counsel as much on the method and manner of holding to truth and assaulting falsehood as the matter of truth itself.  You will not agree with all the details, but you will find a swathe of common opinion that is vigorously orthodox.  You will be stimulated, pointed in the right direction, made aware of issues and helped in where to start with and how to handle those issues.  Above and behind all, there lies a clear desire for the glory of God and the good of the church, a love for the truth and a concern for the lost and confused, and a clear-sighted awareness of what is at stake with a calm determination to hold the line and help others to do the same.  Whether already engaged in fighting a particular battle, or simply seeking to keep honed the edge of your Jerusalem blade, here you will find a good whetstone.

LION of Zambia

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LION of Zambia

My friend James Williamson, currently one of the pastors at the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, hopes to relocate to Zambia to contribute to the work of the gospel under a variety of faithful men.  The LION of Zambia website gives more information.  The following videos provide a colourful overview of some of the work.

For a voice from within, you can follow Conrad Mbewe’s blog.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 18 May 2009 at 15:23

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