Archives For Pastoring

Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent. We learned, we worshipped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Preconference have been posted: Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?

On the website you will have access to the recordings of the discussion between Al Moher, who answered the question “yes,” and Jack Collins, who answered the question “no.” You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies from the two speakers.

Listen, Discuss and Learn

After listening to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins, we spent the third and final session in discussion groups. It is one thing to carry on this important discussion in an academic setting as we did. But it is another thing when this discussion happens in the same local church, around an elder table.

To gain the most from this session, here is a suggested format for thought and discussion with others.

  • Read the introduction to this preconference found on pages 14-15 of the Notebook.
  • Listen to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins. Discuss what you learned.
  • Read “Continuing the Discussion in the Local Church – A Case-Study” on pages 24-25 of the Notebook, and respond to the seven questions related to the case-study.
  • In order to give this discussion a context in the EFCA, read the additional resource “Creation, EFCA Statement of Faith and Evangelical Convictions” after having read the case-study and before discussing the questions. This is found on pages 25-26 of the Notebook.
  • Read and discuss “The Doctrine of Creation: Pastor and Elder/Leadership Affirmations – An EFCA Example,” consisting of Theological Foundations, Scientific Foundations and Pastoral Implications, on pages 26-29 of the Notebook. (This is an example of something you could use in your local church. It has no authority and has not been adopted by any church. It was written, in conjunction with the theology conference, for the purpose of providing a resource for this important discussion which serves as a model for what might be done in a local church. It is intentionally thorough, so you can see the breadth of issues to include, and then you can, based on your own situation, determine what to use that is most helpful to you, meaning all of it, some of it, or none of it. But even if you do not use any of it, you will have been made aware of the breadth of the issues.)

Conclusion

We affirm without reservation or equivocation the biblical truth “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We profess with conviction, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 1, God). We also profess with that same conviction “the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible). With these foundational and essential truths, we humbly and charitably engage in dialogue and debate regarding the question, “Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the universe?”

Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day

Greg Strand – March 17, 2017 2 Comments

Chicago celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by making the Chicago River green for the day. This annual tradition goes back to 1961.

When I served as a youth pastor, one St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I thought it would be fun to provide a breakfast for the youth and add green food coloring to everything. So, we had green orange juice, green milk, green butter, green eggs, green everything. Although food coloring does not change the taste, for some reason drinking green orange juice and green milk somehow just tasted different!

Like many of these celebrations, myth often overshadows the true and real story. Regarding Patrick (385-461) and his ministry in Ireland, there is a lot of myth, legend and embellishment. But once you sift that out, there is also truth, which far surpasses the myths. Although he was never recognized or acknowledged as a saint in the traditional Roman Catholic sense, he was considered the Apostle of Ireland.

One of the things I encourage you to do is to during these annual remembrances, rather than just let the day pass, is that you use it as an opportunity to study, to learn more about the person, in this case Patrick and his call to God and his call to Ireland, first as a slave and second as a missionary, so that you know the difference between what is truth and what is fiction.

Here are a couple of brief historical overviews of the history of Patrick. In this first one, Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, writes about 10 Things You Should Know about St. Patrick

  1. Patrick was not Irish.
  2. Patrick left two genuine writings: his Confessionand his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.
  3. Patrick’s conversion came as a result of his being taken as a slave to Ireland by Irish raiders.
  4. Patrick’s mission to Ireland from around AD 430 to 460 was virtually the only evangelistic mission in fifth-century Western Europe.
  5. Dreams play a prominent role at key turning-points in Patrick’s life, but Scripture was the central factor in the major decisions of his life.
  6. We have no idea if Patrick read any other books than the Bible, for that is the only book he ever quotes.
  7. Patrick’s love for the written words of the Bible was passed onto the Celtic church, which became the most learned body of churches in
  8. At the heart of Patrick’s faith was his love for the doctrine of the Trinity.
  9. Legends about Patrick are legion.
  10. Patrick’s mission to Ireland has been an inspiration to a number down through the years.

In this second historical recounting, Stephen Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and the host of the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History, asks and answers the question, Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

After a brief historical review of Patrick’s life and ministry, Nichols concludes with a prayer traditionally attributed to Patrick, one for which he is known. It is referred to as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

A Few Books on Marriage

Greg Strand – March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

This past year Karen and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. I am grateful for my dear wife, and grow more grateful with each passing year. In the good providence of God he not only pronounced us “husband and wife” he has, indeed, made us one such that our prayer and the bend of our lives is that we “may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).

When Karen and I were first married, we read a book on marriage annually. We did for a number of years. But then we began having children and, well, it changed. In the past few years we have picked this up again. I am always on the lookout for good books on marriage. More so, I am eager to grow in godliness as a husband so that our marriage can be strengthened, and truly reflect Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the church. Both become a “picture,” a manifestation of the gospel (Eph. 5:22-33).

In preparation for leading a seminar on marriage, Jean Williams read a number of books with this question in mind: “What, ultimately, is marriage for?” Williams writes about three books she found especially helpful (“Three books and some thoughts,” The Briefing 403): John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence; Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God; and Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be.

Williams began by looking for one major point or goal of marriage. But she concludes that due to the wonderful complexity and mystery of marriage, there are a number of ultimate reasons for marriage. The main points of these books on marriage, in the order they were listed above, Williams concludes (emphasis mine):

Marriage looks upward – its purpose is to display God’s glory by presenting a picture of the covenant between Christ and the church.

Marriage looks inward – its purpose is spiritual friendship leading to holiness, as husband and wife partner [with] each other on the journey to glory.

Marriage looks outward – its purpose is to serve God in partnership as we rule and care for his world and make Jesus known.

Marriage looks upward, inward, and outward. Like a three-legged stool, if it lacks a leg it will stumble and fall. Yet ultimately marriage looks forward, to the day when our small marriages will be swallowed up by a greater one. For marriage is a temporary permanence, a life-long bond that draws its final breath only when we do. As we step into eternity, all the purposes of marriage find their end in Christ.

I find this not only a helpful summary of these three books, I find these four ultimate aspects of marriage to be a helpful and important reminder as I ponder my own marriage.

As you consider these various ultimate goals of marriage – upward, inward, outward and forward – where do you need to grow? What God-ordained means will you use to foster and nourish that growth?

Depicting Our Commitment to Jesus

Greg Strand – March 9, 2017 6 Comments

H. Wilbert Norton, a dear old saint recently died. He lived a faithful life and fruitful life, for his whole life. He was 102.

Will was ordained in the EFCA in 1940, and served as a missionary with the Free Church in the Belgian Congo. While there, he served as the founder and director of the Bible Institute of the Ubangi. Upon the Norton family’s return in 1949 to the United States, he taught at Colombia Bible College for a semester before joining the faculty at Trinity Seminary and Bible College, beginning in the fall of 1950. Here is a summary of Norton’s ministry at Trinity:

Norton’s work in education included serving as professor of missions, dean of education, and president of Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1950-1964 in Bannockburn, Ill. During his administration Trinity Seminary and Bible College became a liberal arts college, Trinity College. The seminary was named Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The transformation included purchase of 79 acres for a campus in Bannockburn.

In addition to his ministry in the EFCA and at TEDS, he also began missions department at Wheaton College, and he helped to found the doctoral program in missions at Reformed Theological Seminary. While home during a furlough (1945-1947), Christy Wilson, general secretary of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship, asked Norton to aid in the planning of the first InterVarsity Missions conference, Toronto, Canada. This was the genesis of the triennial Urbana Missions Conference.

In a tribute written by his son of his namesake, Will, I was encouraged by many things of Will and Colene’s life and ministry. The thing that most struck me was a memory shared from a return visit to Zaire in 1985. Will, the son, captured the moment in this way:

During a quiet moment, Dad led Mom across the palm lane, down a grassy path to the mission cemetery where Timothy Lambie Norton is buried. Timmy lived only two days in August 1949.

In tears, Mother and Dad stood arm-in-arm, talking to their Lord and thanking Him for Timmy and the privilege of serving Him.

For my brothers and me that grave symbolized Mother and Dad’s commitment to Jesus.

Timothy’s death occurred in 1949. In the wake of this Colene became ill, which led the Nortons to depart from the Belgian Congo. Not only did they leave a ministry and people they love, they left a son and brother. In the good providence of God, he used this return to the United States in innumerable ways. However, this brief recollection speaks volumes about God, about Will and Colene and their commitment to the Lord and their love for one another, and about their legacy of a life lived in joyful, sacrificial obedience to the Father.

Karen, my wife, and I now have grown children. As I read that I pondered the question, “what depicted or symbolized our love for and commitment to Jesus?” Often those closest to us see those things better than we see them ourselves. For most of us, this commitment is not depicted through a major catastrophe like the death of a spouse or a child. That does happen, and it requires strength only God provides to get through such pain. Rather, it is frequently seen through the thousand daily deaths to sin, self, and fleshly aspirations, and the joy of sacrificially loving and serving others.

In sharing and processing this with our adult children, I wrote, “if there were not something in the way Mom and I spoke and lived that evidenced our love for the Lord and the joy of serving him, even when it cost, I would be grieved.” I also encouraged them to remember these truths as they begin their own families.

I reminded myself and shared with my family the following: Might it be said of us as of the Thessalonians (1:9-10): “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

In the EFCA, we strongly affirm the infallibility, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.  We also affirm unequivocally the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is grounded in the Scriptures, God’s Word, which is living and active. Consider what our commitment to this gospel means, according to God’s Word.

  • We are not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We affirm the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We testify to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).
  • We affirm the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-3).
  • We live a life worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
  • We experience (and proclaim) the gospel in Word and power (1 Thess. 1:5).
  • We have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thess. 2:4).

This unwavering commitment to God’s Word, the Scriptures, and God’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, also has significant implications in how we live life together with other believers. Grounded in the essentials of the gospel, we are willing and eager to partner with other like-minded and like-hearted believers, and grant liberty and charity on some of the non-essentials.

In the Free Church, this has been referred to as “the significance of silence.” What this means is that we will discuss and debate an issue, but we will not divide over it. We believe our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, both a doctrinal purity and a practical unity, enables us to live life together with others in the local church, and to partner with other gospel-committed ministries outside our local church and denomination (consider Ephesians). In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ allows us not only to survive in such a setting, it enables and empowers us to thrive and flourish. And we believe this practical unity grounded in doctrinal purity manifests the gospel in practice which we preach and teach in doctrine. This is rightly referred to as evangelical unity.

The Spiritual Heritage Committee is working on a new book, Evangelical Unity, which will address these issues, and which will serve as a companion to the book that spells out our understanding of the essentials, Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (2011). In the past, these two works were This We Believe: The Background and Exposition of the Doctrinal Statement of The Evangelical Free Church of America (1961) and The Significance of Silence (Vol. 2 Heritage Series) (1981).

There are historical precedents of those who have been committed to a similar gospel-centeredness in doctrine and practice. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), one of those from the past, delineates what Christian unity means, cf. Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 5 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 155.

Baxter writes “there must be an union among all churches and Christians in these following particulars.”

  1. They have all but one God.
  2. And one Head and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
  3. And one Sanctifier, the Holy Ghost.
  4. And one ultimate end and hope, even the fruition of God in heaven.
  5. And one Gospel to teach them the knowledge of Christ, and contain the promise of their salvation.
  6. And one kind of faith that is wrought hereby.
  7. And one and the same covenant (of which baptism is the seal) in which they are engaged to God.
  8. And the same instrumental founders of our faith, under Jesus Christ, even the prophets and apostles.
  9. And all members of the same universal body.
  10. And all have the same new nature and holy disposition, and the same holy affections, in loving God and holiness, and hating sin.
  11. They all own, as to the essential parts, the same law of God, as the rule of their faith and life, even the sacred canonical Scriptures.
  12. Every member hath a love to the whole, and to each other, especially to the more excellent and useful members; and an inclination to holy communion with each other.
  13. They have all a propensity to the same holy means and employment, as prayer, learning the Word of God, and doing good to others.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What would you add to the list? What would you delete? What would you edit?
  • Where do we come short in our understanding and in our living out of this unity – created by the gospel of Jesus Christ and expressed by our unity with others in Jesus Christ?