Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Firm, yet winsome

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Firm, yet winsome”
First Published: January 18, 2005

It is Presidential Inauguration week in Washington, and a number of our folks will be there with the Mississippi delegation. This important national event should prompt us to thank God for his national mercies, not the least of which are our civil liberties, as well as to pray for all our public servants at the federal level (of whatever party affiliation). Many New Testament passages will provide you ideas for petitions on their behalf, as well as for God’s will to be cultivated in your own attitude towards government and public witness (e.g., Romans 13 and 1 Peter).

This reminds me that we ought to be concerned to cultivate an effective public witness to Christ in the way we engage with the culture and talk about the “first things” with our contemporaries. David Brooks (and outstanding, Jewish, cultural commentator) recently described the tone (or “voice”) of the aged evangelical leader John Stott’s public witness to Christ in this way: “It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.” He goes on to note that Stott believes in absolute truth “not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.” Brooks calls Stott “Mr. Rogers with a backbone of steel.” Quite a compliment from an astute observer of religion.

Now, we may not be aiming to be Mr. Rogers in our public witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, but surely there is something to be said for the respectful tone and substantive content that has caught David Brooks’ attention in the message of John Stott. Since many voices the represent evangelicals in radio and television talk programing do not do so with the same courtesy and substance of John Stott and others (like our friends John MacArthur and Al Mohler), we will perhaps have to overcome some negative stereotyping when engaging with our neighbors. But speaking the truth in love will certainly help thaw some of the ice.

Men, on Friday night, January 28th, Sinclair Ferguson will be with us for the annual Mid-South Men’s Rally. You don’t want to miss it! Come join us for supper and then for a feast from God’s word. Some of you may be interested to know that Dr. Ferguson recently preached for the royal family, at their estate of Balmoral, in Scotland.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, August 30, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The ‘Southern’ Renaissance

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The ‘Southern’ Renaissance”
First Published: October 4, 2004

This last week I had the privilege of giving the Mullins Lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and of sharing fellowship with Al Mohler and many other good friends. The campus is more beautiful and more full of students than ever. The chapel is newly renovated and the presidential offices are stately (and state-of-the-art!). The faculty is stellar and the seminarians impressive. You may be interested to know that Dr. Mohler’s right-hand man is a Mississippian – Dr. Russ Moore, from Pascagoula. As Dean and Vice-President (as well as a Professor of Theology), he works closely with the President in pastoring this great institution.

One delight was just being able to spend time with dear friends like Al (who maintains a pace of labor that most ordinary mortals would crumple under), Russ, Bruce Ware (Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Theology), Randy Stinson (Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood); to talk with students, like Heath Lambert (who almost came to RTS a couple of years ago); to meet new friends, like Daniel Block (who teaches worship at Southern), David Puckett (another Mississippian serving at SBTS) and Sam Waldron (well-known Reformed Baptist minister and author, who is doing a PhD at Southern now); and to at least get to say hello to other good friends like Chip Stam (a talented musician who is promoting biblical worship at SBTS) and Tom Nettles (noted author and Founders’ Conference leader). My time at Southern was refreshing and stimulating.

I can remember the “bad ole days” at Southern. When the Bible’s authority was undermined. When liberals were questioning core doctrines of the Christian faith in the classroom. And when an increasingly subversive group of ministers were being fed into the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, in God’s providence and mercy, the whole faculty is committed to inerrancy, soundly embraces the doctrines of grace and longs to tell the world about the Lord Jesus Christ, and the students share those commitments! The Lord is good. As a Presbyterian, I’m profoundly thankful for these faithful, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting Baptists. What a blessing it is to minister shoulder-to-shoulder by them, to have them as trusted allies within evangelicalism, and to engage the world with the truth of God alongside of them.

But there’s no place like home, so back to First Presbyterian Church, Jackson! This coming month holds many special opportunities for discipleship and witness. Peter Jones will be with us in October and John Blanchard (from England) and David Robertson (from Scotland) will visit in November. Derek Thomas’s Wednesday night series on “The Mark of a Christian” has been rich. Don’t miss a message. We’ll have special Reformation Day sermons on October 31, and will employ a historic Reformed liturgy on that Sunday evening. Plan to invite friends and to participate in all of these occasions for spiritual growth and evangelistic outreach.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Especially of Believers

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Especially of Believers”
First Published: September 14, 2004

On this past Sunday morning, we tackled a glorious text in 1Timothy 4:10b “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” One phrase that we didn’t have time to fully unpack and address is Paul’s suggestive assertion that the living God on whom our hope is fixed “is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”

This verse has been disputed territory in theological discussion. Universalists (those who believe that all humankind will be saved) point to this as a proof-text for their view. See, they say, it says that God is “the Savior of all men” and that means that Paul is teaching that all are or will be saved. This interpretation, however, would not only put Paul in conflict with the teaching of the rest of Scripture which makes it amply clear that not all are or will be saved (think of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:41) but would also put Paul in contradiction with Paul! After all, he has just warned us of those who are led astray by demons and deceiving spirits (see 1 Timothy 4:1) No, clearly this is not the point Paul was trying to make when he said that God is “the Savior of all men.” Universalists “over-read” the text and fail to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. They also can’t do justice to the phrase “especially of believers” (however translated) – a phrase in which Paul clearly shows the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

A second interpretation of these words is that of our Arminian friends (though they often don’t know who Arminius was or even that their view is called “Arminian”!). They claim that this verse means that God offers salvation to all humanity, and that Christ atoned for all humanity, but that only believers receive salvation and the benefits of Christ’s atonement, because of their faith. This however is to “under-read” the main assertion of the text (as well as to read other things into it that aren’t there). Paul doesn’t say that God is potentially the Savior of all men, or that he desires to be the Savior of all men, but that he “is the Savior of all men.” No, this interpretation just won’t do.
There have been two ways that wise interpreters have tried to explain this text. Since they understand that not all men are saved, some interpreters will take the assertion here that “God is Savior of all” to mean that his providential care extends to all. That is, they take “savior” in a less than fully salvific sense. This is how John Calvin, for instance, explains Paul’s assertion. On the other hand other good interpreters have noted that Paul often uses “all” to mean “all kinds” rather than “every last person on the planet” or every person who has ever lived.” They rightly point out that he uses “all men” to mean “all kinds or types of people” on at least three occasions in 1 Timothy (see 2:1,4, and 6). This reading would suggest that Paul’s meaning is the God is savior of all kinds of people. This seems closer to the mark.

But let me suggest that Paul’s meaning is just not that difficult to grasp here. In fact, I would suggest that everywhere in the New Testament that we find the emphasis on God as savior of “all men” or Christ as savior “of the world” the inspired biblical writers are pressing home and reveling in three grand realities simultaneously: (1) that there is only one Savior God and one way of salvation for all mankind – our savior God is the only saving hope for the whole of humanity; (2) that our Savior God is not only the savior of the Jews but also of the Gentiles; and (3) that our savior God is not merely the savior of some tiny remnant of Israel or the savior of some exclusive Judaizing or Gnostic few, but rather that he is the savior of a multitude that none can number. We won’t get into a debate over particular redemption here! But suffice it to say, this verse says nothing to undermine the glorious truth that Christ died for his own sheep, and that all those and only those who are chosen of his Father believe on him

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Mighty Men of Prayer

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Mighty Men of Prayer”
First Published: August 9, 2004

A number of months ago, I came across a convicting and helpful quote. It comes from the pen of an early twentieth century Scottish Congregationalist theologian named P.T. Forsyth. Forsyth’s theology is not uniformly reliable, but it seems to me that he gets this point right: “What the Church needs today is not more or better technology, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men of mighty prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on technology, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer. The man —God’s man— is made in the prayer closet. His life and his profoundest convictions are born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages are received when he is alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor.” These words ring even truer today, now that we stand in the twenty-first century, than when Forsyth first wrote them. Yet all around us there are ministers, churches and ministries chasing one fad after the next. Surely his words are timely in that regard.

But what struck me, especially, was his call to prayer. I know that I need to be more a man of prayer, and I know that my fellow ministers yearn to be men mighty in prayer. So, as a congregation, would you pray for us to become men who could be considered mighty in prayer, and who would in fact be mighty in prayer? And will you intercede for us using the words of Ephesians 6:19-20. “Pray on my behalf” says Paul there. If the Apostle Paul needed Christians’ prayers, how much more do we need yours? Pray (1) for our earnestness and faithful consistency in proclaiming the Word. That every time we open our mouths, we will steadfastly preach the truth (“in the opening of my mouth”); (2) that we would clearly speak just the things that God would have us speak (“that . . . utterance would be given to me”); (3) that we would have a holy boldness and Gospel freedom in our preaching (“to make known with boldness”) because you don’t want a man who will tell you what you want to hear, but one who will tell you what you need to hear! And pray, (4) that we would make known the mystery of the Gospel, lifting up Christ crucified. If we are to “to make known . . . the mystery of the gospel,” then there is to be a proper Gospel-focus in our preaching.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, August 23, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Pluralism and Christianity

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Pluralism and Christianity”
First Published: April 20, 2004

Many of you have commented appreciatively about the remarks in last Sunday morning’s sermon relating to Marcus Borg’s assertions about Christianity. We were working our way through 2 John 5-13, and had come across John’s exhortation to Christians to be watchful in the truth and to remain faithful to the biblical witness about the person and work of Jesus. John says there “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 7-11).
We learned several things in our study of this passage. (1) John is simply following Jesus’ warnings about false teachers (cf. Mark 13:22-23). (2) This false teaching to which he is referring strikes at the very heart of the faith – it does not acknowledge the incarnation of Jesus the Divine Messiah. These false teachers do not embrace the biblical teaching about Jesus person and work. This is quintessential heresy. (3) Not surprisingly then, John is unequivocal in his denunciation of this teaching – it is the work of Satan the deceiver and is antichrist. Consequently, John warns Christians to be on guard against the deception of this teaching lest we become spiritual losers. (4) John elaborates his description and his denunciation of the false teachers. They claim to be taking Christian knowledge to a new level, “going beyond” the old and outmoded. But when one leaves the unchanging truth of Christ, one not only loses Christ, one also loses God. Reject the Son – lose the Father too. Embrace the Son and you have the Father. (5) Finally, says the Apostle of Love, these false teachers are not to be welcomed, shown hospitality, or afforded respect in the Christianity community, but rather shunned. John is so emphatic that he says that any show of hospitality makes one an accomplice of the false teacher.

The timing of our study of this passage and last Saturday’s Clarion-Ledger story on Marcus Borg was impeccable. Borg is a religion professor at Oregon State who has gained notoriety through his own writings and through his affiliation with the so-called “Jesus Seminar.” Three of Borg’s views highlighted there caught my attention: (1) his pluralism – that is, his denial that Christ is the exclusive path to God. He says “I could not be a Christian if it claimed that” (an ironic statement, if ever there was one!); (2) his new paradigm – that is, his proposal that there are two forms of Christianity, which he calls the “earlier” and “emerging” – he is a proponent of the latter paradigm; (3) his declaration about the mainline churches – that “the leadership of all mainline denominations is committed to the emerging paradigm.”

Several observations are in order. First, Borg’s pluralism will find no support in Jesus’ own teaching. Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). New Testament Christianity follows Jesus in lock-step on this issue declaring that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Second, Borg is honest enough to admit that the emerging paradigm leaves behind close to 2000 years of Christian belief, including that of the earliest Christians and the earliest Christian writings. The only issue is, does anything that does that qualify to be called “Christian” in any meaningful sense? Third, while Borg wants to reach out to those leaving the mainline churches in droves, and views his new spin on Christianity as the answer, he fails to realize the implication of his own admission that the mainline churches’ leadership already embraces his paradigm – if people are leaving the mainline church, it is not because the new paradigm has not been tried there, but rather that it has been tried and found wanting. In short, the new paradigm is the perfect first catechism for paganism. Embrace Borg’s views and there is no further need to hold on to the title of Christian – there’s no substance left anyway.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Reforming Worship

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Reforming Worship”
First Published: December 15, 2003

Well, we’ve come to the last First Epistle and the last Pastor’s Perspective column of the year.

Let me mention that Derek and I have a new book that has just come out this week. It is called Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship – Celebrating the Legacy of James Montgomery Boice. We co-authored and co-edited this volume with our friend Phil Ryken. P&R has published the book and it is available through our church bookstore (or RTS or any other good Christian bookstore). It’s topic is timely. All the contributors desire to see biblical worship restored and flourishing in the Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, Gospel-preaching churches of today. This book is no less than an outline for a biblical program for the renewal of Christian worship in our time. It is a corporate worship manifesto, a call for the doxological reformation of the church: according to Scripture alone and to the glory of God alone. R.C. Sproul was kind enough to provide the foreword, and among the authors will you find Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Eric Alexander, Hughes Old, Bob Godfrey, Don Whitney and others.

One of the main convictions of this book is that Christian corporate worship both requires and shapes our understanding of the Bible’s teaching about God. The doctrine of God informs our corporate worship and, in turn, our corporate worship refines our practical comprehension and embrace of the doctrine of God. It is, of course, true that worship in all of life impacts our corporate worship. One who does not “present his body as a living sacrifice” is both unprepared to enter into the fullness of corporate worship as it is envisioned in the word and is not expressing one of its principle intended ethical effects. In fact, the person in whom there is an experiential dissonance between his activity in gathered worship and his worship in the rest of life is in danger of creating a parallel but juxtaposed life, the breeding ground of a fatal spiritual hypocrisy. Nevertheless, it is especially in the local church under the means of grace appointed by God for the edification of the church in corporate worship (the word—reading, preaching, singing the Bible; prayer—pleading the promises of the Bible, adoring and thanking the God of the Bible, confessing sin, interceding for the saints; and the sacraments—the divinely appointed tangible confirmatory signs of Bible promises) that we come to know God. This context provides for both the revelational and relational aspects of Christian discipleship necessary for growth in the knowledge of God. Consequently, the “how” of worship is vital to our growth in grace and in the knowledge of the one true God, because it contributes to our grasp of the one true God. Often we hear, and agree with, the dictum that “we become like what we worship,” but the biblical view of worship teaches us that it is also true that “we become like how we worship.”
Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Salt and Light

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Salt and Light”
First Published: November 18, 2003

This is our seventh in a series of columns sketching a “vision” for the future of First Presbyterian Church, and we have been doing a little analysis of where we are now before we launch into the question of where we may be headed. We’ve already covered 10 specific aspects about our current congregational life and ministry, and commented on our excellent personnel. Now our attention is fully turned to what we are trying to do and where we are headed.

Last week, I said that Matthew 5:13-16 must loom large in our thinking if we are going to be able to stand firm without standing still. Jesus says there: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Here’s what I mean by “Matthew 5:13-16 looming large in our thinking.” In this great passage, Christ is sketching out the marching orders for his disciples in this fallen world. By saying that we must be salt and light he is, among other things, telling us that we must be distinct and visible. To put it another way, we have to be different from the world, but involved in the world. That’s the kind of church we want to be.

Let me elaborate. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus has just said that we must expect persecution and rejection from the world. This realization could lead us to a sense of futility or fear. We might say “well the world is going to hate us, so why not hunker down in our bunker and wait things out” or we might become embittered against a world that despises us. To prevent just this kind of reaction to his words, Jesus assures his disciples of their importance, usefulness and necessity to the world (they are “salt” – the world would decay without them) and their divinely given role in bearing witness to God’s plan with their lives and words (they are “light” –the world would never see the truth without them).

So, as we have said, in this passage Jesus is giving “marching orders” for all his followers as to how they are to relate to the world and culture around them. He is also giving his disciples encouragement regarding their significance in the world itself and in God’s kingdom program.

Every generation of Christians faces a serious challenge in figuring out how to relate to the world and culture around it. And there are two tendencies in the history of the church in answer to the question of the proper relationship between the church and the world): isolationism and compromise.

On the one hand, many Christians believe that the way to be faithful is to retreat from the world and culture – isolationism. This was the approach of the monastic orders of the medieval church, and it was also the approach of American fundamentalist Christians from about the 1920s to the 1960s. The idea behind it is that the best way for the church to remain pure and untainted by the world was to stay out of worldly business and out of the world itself, as much as possible. But Jesus expects his people to be “in the world, but not of it” not withdrawn from the world itself. That’s why he says “let your light shine before men.”

On the other hand, many Christians, earnestly desiring to avoid the pitfalls of isolationism and to be faithful to God’s call to reaching the world have fallen into another trap – compromise. They have become like the world. Sometimes they have reasoned that to reach the world you have got to talk the world’s language and adapt to the world in certain ways, this is called contextualization. But it has lead to compromise from the days of Origen to Schleiermacher to Willow Creek. It’s not that folk set out to compromise, but they are so concerned to communicate effectively and successfully that the gospel message gets fuzzified.

Jesus’ answer to our tendency to compromise is not antagonism (constant combat mode against the world) but that we be salt (we must be distinct from the world for the sake of the world). Likewise, Jesus’ answer to our isolationism is, however, not activism but that we be light (we must be distinctive in the world for the sake of the world).
Your friend,

Ligon Ducan


Monday, August 16, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Standing firm, but not still

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Standing firm, but not still”
First Published: November 11, 2003

Commitments for the First Presbyterian Church for the Next Quarter Century

We are in the midst of a major transitional time for the visible Church, in American culture in general and Jackson in particular. Many mainline churches around us have fallen prey to liberalism and pluralism of various types, while many evangelical churches look more like the culture than the Church. Our desire is to reach out without compromise – to stay faithful, but not to stand still. We want to remain faithful to God and his inerrant Word and to his vision for the church, and at the same time be aggressive in fulfilling his mission for the church. This means that the church must again be distinct from the world in order to fulfill her mission.
Matthew 5:13-16 must loom large in our thinking if we are going to be able to stand firm without standing still. I’ll explain that next week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Mission of FPCJ

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Mission of FPCJ”
First Published: September 30, 2003

Last week, I began a series, in this column, dealing with a “vision” for the future of First Presbyterian Church. By that, I mean that I will attempt to clearly articulate, set forth and explain the focused goals of my service among you, as well as my dreams for the future health, growth and ministry of the church. Last time, we talked about the sources of this “vision.” This week, I want to look at the church’s “Mission Statement.”

A number of years ago (long before I came as minister), the Session adopted this helpful formulation of this church’s mission and purpose. Our church’s “Mission Statement” reads as follows:

"Church Mission/Purpose – First Presbyterian Church is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the infallible word of God and are our only guide for faith and life. We therefore believe that adherence to the Scriptures and this system of belief known as the Reformed Faith demands a vital and vibrant witness because men are spiritually lost apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Many challenging opportunities present themselves to the believer in Jesus Christ - opportunities to witness, to serve, to grow spiritually, and to apply faith in every area of life. Our highest aim is to glorify God and to promote His kingdom."

It goes on to specify three areas or aspects of its work (Worship - Discipleship - Outreach) and then says:

"First Presbyterian Church purposes to stand as a Reformed witness to Jackson, the surrounding community, and ultimately to the world through the proclamation of the whole counsel of God as written in the verbally inspired, infallible Scriptures. With His word as our authority, this body of believers seeks to glorify God through regular public worship characterized by the faithful preaching and teaching of the word in order to encourage and equip the saints to do the work of the church in ministering to individuals, families, the community and the world. Through Christian education, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, and mission opportunities, First Presbyterian Church seeks to be obedient in fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Our mission is clear, biblical, and thus not up for review. I am fully committed to it, without reservation or desire for amendment. The question is, how does it translate into the matter of the “vision of the church” 5, 10, or 25 years down the road? And further, how does it inform our approach to spiritual health, ministry, growth and expansion issues? We will begin our quest to answer such questions (humbly and in total dependence upon the Lord), in next week’s column.

We have recently entered into the eighth year of my ministry here at First Presbyterian, so this is a good time to pause and reflect on where we are and where we are going. So, next week, we’ll begin considering the “where we are” part.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Abiding Sources of Vision

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Abiding Sources of Vision”
First Published: September 23, 2003

Over the last several months, I have been approached on many occasions by officers, ministers, staff and church members, and asked to share “my vision” for First Presbyterian Church. I understand by this request that there is a desire for me to clearly set forth and explain the focused goals of my service among you and my dreams for the future health, growth and ministry of the church. This is perfectly appropriate, as long as one recognizes the truth of James 4:13-15 and Proverbs 16:9. In no sense, however, would I want you to think that I am under the delusion that “my vision” is some sort of sovereign, unilateral dictate. I am not only well aware of the Session’s corporate role in the leadership and vision of the church, I revel in it.
At the same time, I have been able to share these “dreams” of mine with the elders of the church on several occasions now, and I think that they have resonated with what I have laid out before them. So, I thought over the next several weeks, I would share with you the congregation so of these dreams and aspirations. Bear in mind, then, that what I present here is deliberately designed not to be merely reflective of one individual’s expression of opinions and desires, or the vision of one teaching elder among many ruling elders. Instead, it is a fresh restatement of an historic, standing and growing Sessional consensus about the ministry of our church.

The prime source of the vision I wish to share is found in the Bible, and especially the Pastoral Epistles of Paul. Where he sets forth the God-given principles of healthy church life. The whole of the Scripture is our infallible rule of faith and practice, but especially the New Testament guides us in the principles of new covenant congregational life. Acts gives us a picture of Apostolic church life. Revelation 2-3 reveals Jesus’ evaluation of the early churches. The Pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) teach us about church administration, public worship, qualifications for ministers, elders, and deacons, how women are to be involved in the work of the church, the church’s responsibility to provide for its needy, how to give spiritual counsel to aged men and women, and young men and women, and more. They stress sound doctrine, demand consecrated living, show the value of creeds and confessions, reveal the closing activities in the life of the Apostle Paul and disclose what church life was like toward the end of the first century. They are written for our instruction: they show us what Christian ministry is supposed to be like (Paul expects us to pattern our ministry thusly – he is not simply making suggestions [see 2 Thessalonians 3:14!], but rather laying down a permanent pattern for Christian ministry). I want to be clear in saying that I do not have any authority to depart from God’s inspired, authoritative and infallible Word in envisioning the future of the church. I aim to be faithful to his vision, not to create an alternative.

There are however other sources on which I lean to gain wisdom for direction for our common future. They are not on the same par with Scripture and indeed each to different degrees are actually themselves dependent on the wisdom of Scripture, but they are significant influences nevertheless because they guide us by showing how wise and godly people have applied the principles of Scripture to specific circumstances in the life of the church. One of those resources is church history and especially the Reformed tradition (tradition, rightly understood and employed is the “living faith of the dead,” rather than “the dead faith of the living” as Jaroslav Pelikan has reminded us). Godly Christians and churches of the past have much to teach us in tackling church life in our own time. Another resource is our corporate, public theology and doctrinal standards (the Westminister Confession of Faith and Catechisms). Since the authors of those great documents were expressly attempting to reform the church in its “doctrine, worship, discipline and government” surely we have much to learn from them. A third resource is the history of First Presbyterian Church and the legacy of her former leaders. There have been giants among us in days past and we ignore their wisdom at our peril. Fourth, there is the Session of First Church. I am but one elder amongst a brotherhood of elders, all of whom are jointly vested with the responsibility of guiding the church. I draw from their wisdom in what I am about to outline. Finally, there is the church’s mission statement, adopted by our Session a little over a decade ago. It is a fine document and I have drawn much wisdom from it.

(To be continued)


Monday, August 09, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Sexless Affairs

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Sexless Affairs”
First Published: August 19, 2010

Derek’s words of challenge to the men and women of First Church this past Sunday evening were sobering. He asked us to look at how we conduct ourselves with our co-workers, and to see whether we were placing ourselves in situations where we might fall prey to temptation. Interestingly, even the secular media and cultural-pundits are registering confirmation of the warnings he gave about crossing boundaries of appropriate male-female behavior in our work-places. Gannett News Service recently ran a report on “The New Infidelity: Affairs Without Sex” by Karen S. Peterson.

It went like this: “Beware the workplace! It could be hazardous to your marriage. Those wonderful friendships that make going to the office such fun can turn into a very romantic ‘emotional affair’ when three elements are present–and not one of them is sex, Baltimore psychologist and marital researcher Shirley P. Glass told Gannett News Service.”

The article goes on to describe these three elements: “The signs of an emotional affair are: (1) Emotional Intimacy, When you share more about who you are--your hopes and dreams, frustrations and failures--with the other person than you do with your spouse, you are emotionally intimate; (2) Secrecy and Deception, Are you telling your spouse you’re meeting that wonderful colleague for lunch in the cafeteria every day? Lying reduces intimacy in a marriage; (3) Sexual Chemistry, If there is sexual chemistry between you, then at the very least there is an unacknowledged sexual attraction–even if you never act on it.”

In the article, Gannett News Service reporter Karen S. Peterson warns “there’s a crisis of infidelity brewing in the cubicles of America’s offices. For the most part, the people who are involved are good folks in good marriages. They aren’t thrill seekers. But long hours working together and the bond of close friendship have created temptations. ‘The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love,’ marital counselor Shirley Glass told Gannett. ‘Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.’ Glass is the author of the just-published book, ‘Not “Just Friends”: Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal.’”

“‘This is the essence of the new crisis of infidelity: Friendships, work relationships, and Internet liaisons have become the latest threat to marriages,’ Glass explained to Gannett. A classic example of emotional infidelity is an affair in an Internet chat room. Why do we stray? Because we can. There is attraction. There is proximity. There is opportunity. If you wonder whether or not you're part of an emotional affair, ask yourself this question: Would you be comfortable if your spouse could hear your conversations with your new friend or could view a videotape of your meetings? The answer pretty much says it all.” (This article appeared in CompuServe’s News Digest)

There is much common sense here. Ah, sometimes the sons of this age are wiser than the sons of the next. Christian men and women, if we are going to maintain Christ-honoring, Gospel-adorning sexual purity, we are going to have to be careful in the workplace, in our use of email, in our web-surfing on the internet and in all our interactions with the opposite sex (and I suppose that I have to add, in our day and age, in our interactions with those of our own gender). Let’s pray for God to give us a grace-derived desire to honor him in all our social relations and to honor our spouses in the way we relate to everyone else. And then let’s pray that he’ll give us the grace to persevere in that desire. “Give what you command, and command what you will.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Youth Ministry Buzzwords

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Youth Ministry Buzzwords”
First Published: July 22, 2003

This past Sunday evening we had the privilege of ordaining Joe Holland to the Gospel ministry. He is our new Minister of Students and Families, and the occasion of his installation to this post gave me the opportunity to explain our philosophy of student ministry here at First Presbyterian Church. We saw, from Deuteronomy 6, that our ministry to youth and families should be covenantal, relational, parental, discipleship-oriented and ordinary means of grace-based ministry, designed to edify and equip the youth of our congregation for Christian living, and assist and encourage parents in the Christian nurture of their children. Allow me to elaborate.

When I say that our ministry is covenantal, I mean that it will be primarily aimed at the covenant children of this congregation. Our first priority is not to evangelize students outside of FPC, but to minister to the children of this congregation. Our goal with our own children is (as Durham put it so many years ago) “to bring them within the covenant who are without, and to make those who are within the covenant to walk suitably to it.” In other words, we want to see the children of our church truly embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we want to see them truly growing in grace. Of course, in every aspect of our church’s ministry we want to do the work of evangelism, and this is no different in our youth ministry. But our priority here is on the discipleship of covenant youth.

When I say that our ministry is relational, I mean that (though teaching and large group meetings will play a vital role) personal contact, in one to one meetings and small groups, and cultivation of friendships between staff, volunteers, and students will be key to effective discipleship. Hence, the all the staff of the ministry will place a premium on and evidence gifts for relational work.

When I say that our ministry is parental, I mean that our goal is not to replace parental discipleship, nor usurp it, but to assist, encourage, support, supplement and complement healthy family Christian nurture. The best “youth minister” in the world is two godly parents fostering faith of their children in the home, church and school. We aim to help that, not replace it. We know, of course, that there are many parents longing for aid with their children and we want to be a real, substantive, responsive support for them.

When I say that our ministry is discipleship-oriented, I mean that our goal is to see our young people become mature Christians rooted and grounded in grace, and not merely to facilitate large numbers of participants at youth activities, or to sponsor high-profile events. Our approach is people-based, rather than program-based, and our desire is not just to see a student pray a prayer, or experience a “spiritual high” at a camp but rather to cultivate a faith and a life that will last.

Finally, when I say our ministry is ordinary means of grace-based, I mean that we want to cultivate in our students an appreciation for the ministry of the word, the right participation in the sacraments, and the life of prayer as the normal way God brings about growth in the Christian life. That is, we want to encourage students to see the priority of worship, and indeed corporate worship, for Christian living. The ministry wants to see our youth participating fully in the worship, service, fellowship and witness of the church.

To this end, our Minister of Students and Families will work with the Session and ministry staff of FPC, in leading, organizing, and structuring the Junior High, Senior High, and College Ministries in such a way as to develop our students' spiritually in an atmosphere that is challenging, exciting, creative, and inviting. He will give spiritual leadership and oversight to the entire student ministry. Among many other things, he will aim to bring enthusiasm and energy to the various student activities of the Church; to see that the youth staff reach out to non-participating students and seek to draw them into the life of the youth fellowship; to develop and maintain strong relationships and fellowship with the students of the church, and encourage this among the youth staff; to cultivate team ministry; and to work with parents to encourage healthy patterns of Christian living, and nurturing good Christian family life and parenting practices.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Practical Suggestions for Developing and Maintaining Good Marriage Relationships

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Practical Suggestions for Developing and Maintaining Good Marriage Relationships”
First Published: April 1, 2003

Here are some tips for creating healthy marriages from Dr. Wayne Mack:

To develop and maintain good marriage relationships, keep the following guidelines in mind.

1. Be willing to admit to being part of the problem (Matthew 7:1-6; Proverbs 20:6, Philippians 4:2-3).

2. Be willing to change (John 5:6; Philippians 4:2-3).

3. Avoid the use of emotionally charged words: “You don’t really love me.” “You always do....” “You never do anything right.” “I don’t really care what you think.” “You’re just like your mother.”

4. Accept responsibility for your own emotions, words, actions, and reactions, and do not blame them on the other person. Admit it if you got angry, lashed out, became discouraged, etc. (Galatians 6:5; James 1:13-15).

5. Refrain from having re-runs of old arguments (Ephesians 4:26).

6. Deal with one problem at a time; solve it and then move on to the next (Matthew 6:34).

7. Avoid being historical; rather, deal with the present. Hang a “no fishing” sign over the past unless it will help to solve the present problem (Philippians 3:12-14; Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 43:25).

8. Concentrate on the positive rather than the negative (Philippians 4:8).

9. Learn to communicate respect and love in positive, non-verbal ways (Matthew 8:1-4, 14-15; Psalm 32:8).

10. Express your thoughts and concerns to each other. Relate your activities. Listen and understand the meaning behind the words and actions. If your husband manifests annoyance, he may be saying, “I’ve had a terrible day. Nobody respects me. I would like to have some encouragement and respect from you. Please encourage me and let me know you are glad to be my wife.” Of if your wife says, “You don’t love me,” she may really be saying, “I desperately want some affection. I want you to hold me, pay attention to me, and tell me you love and appreciate me.” (Example of Jesus in John 1:45-47; Mark 5:1-5; John 11:20-35).

11. Practice the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. What would you like your mate to do for you? How would you like your mate to treat you? Would you like your mate to: Tell you the truth? Ask your opinion? Help in time of need? Thank you for help or service? Then mimic that action. Practice the principle laid down in Luke 6:35. “Do good (that which will help the other person), and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Count on it — if you practice these principles regularly, you will be relating to your mate in the way God wants you to relate, and promoting a God-honoring, enriching relationship with your spouse.

Adapted from Wayne Mack, Strengthening your Marriage, 2nd edition, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999), 73-74. Used by permission.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: A Nation at War

The Pastor’s Perspective
“A Nation at War”
First Published: March 25, 2003

America is now at war, and as the first shots were being fired, First Presbyterian Church was at prayer. It was one of the best seasons of intercession that I can remember at First Presbyterian, and Ruling Elder Edmund Johnston told me that it was the longest season of prayer he could recall since the Easter Flood of 1979. It was profoundly affecting to hear the earnest prayers of God’s people, young and old, seeking his face.

One young man, a university student who was home with us, wrote meet immediately thereafter and said: “I just wanted to share with you how encouraging tonight’s prayer meeting was. I found myself in what is, unfortunately, too often an unfamiliar state — that of delighting in the prayers of God's people. Although I’m not entirely sure why, I was amazed and deeply moved as person after person stood to pour out their hearts. As a college student, the prayers of our older members seemed especially poignant. It was strangely peaceful to hear a congregation expressing its dependence, not on a mighty military force, but on an Almighty God. With all the talk lately of “our great nation” it was more than refreshing to be reminded of “our Greater God.” I was deeply struck by [one of our missionaries] Howard Shelden’s statement printed in the bulletin: “Wherever God calls us to is the safest place to be at that particular moment, whether it is to die . . . or to live.”

When I got home, it struck me that just over a dozen years ago the first Gulf War had begun on a Wednesday night. I had friends fighting in that conflict, and I have friends in harm’s way this time too. Yesterday afternoon, seeing pictures of young wives and children saying goodbye to their husbands and daddies, not knowing whether they would see them again, brought this thing home to me again, perhaps as powerfully as anything since September 11, 2001.

A few in our nation, and more around the world have questioned the morality of this war. Indeed, the Roman Pontiff has taken it upon himself to advise that no military action is just that is not approved by the U.N. I for one, disagree. The Bible says that God established government and that it “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4). This is precisely what our President, Armed Forces and Allies are attempting to do.

I think Derek Thomas’s comments were very helpful on this: “My own personal point of view (as a British citizen living in the United States) is that we are to pray for our enemies, and Saddam Hussein is just that: an enemy and a tyrant of Hitlerian and Stalinesque proportions. He is a threat to every nation on earth, Islamic as well as Christian. Because the use of terrorism is so utterly unpredictable, I personally support the taking of pre-emptive action to try and prevent it when the threat of it appears credible. Having lived in Northern Ireland for twenty years I came to that conclusion a long time ago despite what was often a hostile American reaction to this viewpoint. I therefore support this war. Pacifism at this juncture is muddle-headed and worse: it provokes an enemy to take risks and will in the long run cost us more. But that does not prevent me from praying for this man's salvation, or the salvation of members of his army. In a recent service at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson I did just that. It was instinctive rather than planned. But I felt it was the right thing to do at that time. After all, the work of the Holy Spirit is going to do far more good in the long run than anything a bullet can do. But now that war has begun, the perspective changes a little. Because I believe our cause is just I want righteousness to prevail; and evil to be defeated. That means that when it comes down to it, I want our troops (British and American) to survive rather than Saddam’s. I will pray that the loss of life be minimal, that the execution of the war be honorable, and will thank God for victory–even when that victory is pronounced on the graves of men and women War is horrible. It is the most horrible thing there is. But it is sometimes necessary. And now is such a time.”

Let us pray for a real and lasting peace, which in this case, necessitates war.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan