Category Archives: Seminary writings

Response to "L’Abri" by Edith Schaeffer

Written for Dr. Richard Horner, Church and the World, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, November 2003.

This book is the tale of the Schaeffers’ nearly forty-year endeavor to demonstrate, through their lives and work, that the God of the Bible existed in the twentieth century and that his word is true. They did this by opening their home to “give honest answers to honest questions” to seeking people and in doing so “by living on the basis of prayer,” trusting God to provide for all their needs. Edith Schaeffer, in her homespun manner, provides detailed and copious evidence of the hundreds and thousands of lives who were touched by their ministry beginning in Switzerland and extending nearly world-wide over the many years as they sought to fulfill the calling to provide spiritual (and physical) nourishment for the hungry persons that God sent to their door.

But she doesn’t gloss over the many trials that attended their way. They struggled through “sicknesses [from the the polio that afflicted their son Franky to Francis’ eventual death due to lymphoma], accidents, depressions, discouragement, frustrations and exhaustion.” Prayer was the source of their strength and sustenance. They committed to prayer right from the beginning for all of their needs, and though they experienced lean times, God provided for their daily needs and for gradual expansion of the ministry into a large, though still family oriented, organization, through the prayers and financial support of the many people who believed in what they were doing without so much as a request.

Like some of her other books, this one included more detailed names and stories than I generally care to explore, but she succeeded grandly in demonstrating the value of living a life based “in reality” in dynamic relationship with a watching and listening world and dependent on God through prayer. Their extended L’Abri “family” is a testimony of God’s faithfulness to provide for a ministry that He has established and their faithfulness, in God’s strength, to follow the call they had received in spite of many setbacks, detours, trials and testings. She shows that ministry is a surprising and disappointing combination of excitement and pain, joy and sorrow, because we live in a fallen world. I loved the testimony of their children who thanked Francis for having long prepared them for the eventuality of his untimely death by “stressing the Fall and the abnormal history that will continue until Christ’s return.” We all place our ultimate hope in That Day, but in the meantime, we are to stand strong (and weak) in the calling we have received, in full dependence on him who called us and Who will bring every detail of our lives and ministries to fulfillment in His time.

The Pastor’s Family, Sloth, Jealousy, Competition, Sexual Lust, Ecclesiastical Politics, and Ministry Philosophy

by Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.

1. The pastor’s family, its importance, difficulties and witness. Practical ways I will minister to my family.

IMPORTANCE. The pastor’s most important human relationships are in his family. There his true identity is revealed and his sanctification is improved. If he is a tyrant at home, he will be a tyrant in the church. He may put up a good front for awhile with his congregation, but eventually, his true self will come out. Conversely, if he learns to serve his family as a loving shepherd – guiding, protecting, feeding – he will do the same with his flock.

Before I had children, I didn’t understand why some parents came late to meetings from time to time or didn’t show up at all. I expected them to be on time every time and had little patience with their seeming negligence.

However, after our two children came along, I began to understand from experience that kids get sick and have emergencies that cannot be prevented. I became more patient with the flock as a result. Similarly, God has used my wife to knock off some of the rough edges in my life. Because I can’t hide my true self from her, she points out my weaknesses and faults so that we can bring them to God in prayer for his sanctifying work.

DIFFICULTIES. The pastor’s family is vulnerable in some unique ways. First, everyone in the church (and sometimes outside the church) knows who they are. This can have a positive and some negative effects. It can be a source of comfort but it can also feel as though the family lives in a fish bowl where everyone knows their business. Expectations can be very high and they feel like they own you. It can also cause the family members to feel that everyone owes them something. Second, there will be a sense of loneliness because the pastor and his family will never be like everyone else in their eyes. Some folks think that pastors don’t have sex or understand sin, lust, and temptation.

WITNESS. The most important thing is to be authentic. The pastor and his family will be a model for other families, so they must be the same at home and at church. If not, the kids will become confused and the wife hurt. The best thing a pastor and his family can do will be to bring their values and practices into the church where everyone can see them – treating one another with love and respect, serving one another, disciplining when necessary but doing so in a way that is not demeaning. This testifies to the grace of God in practical family living that others can emulate.

PRACTICAL WAYS. I will minister to my family in the following ways. I will not leave them. I will improve my sanctification. I will communicate with them by listening to their concerns and responding to them in a loving manner. I will be demonstrative in my love for them by telling them that I love them, hugging them, affirming them and disciplining them when needed. I will seek their highest good by helping them discover and live out God’s will for their lives. I will pray with and for them and teach them God’s word so that they learn to do it for themselves and their families. I will protect them from the church by not using them as a negative illustration and not insisting that they participate beyond what normal members do.

2. Why sloth is dangerous. How I am going to avoid the “twin demons” of obsessive work and sloth.

Sloth is dangerous because it leads to ruin. Scripture tells us that laziness leads to trouble, death, destruction, poverty, and want, among other things (Prov 15.19; 18.9; 21.25; 24.30). It often doesn’t show up right away in the pastorate. The slothful pastor can neglect his duties for some time before anyone notices because most people are not clear on exactly what his responsibilities entail. They think if he preaches a pretty good sermon on Sunday he is doing his job. However, some pastors have the ability to preach without working very hard to do it. They have a silver tongue that allows them to get by with a minimum of study and effort. The pastor may even justify himself in doing so since he “gets the job done,” and besides, people tell him he always looks tired and his family says he is never home in the evening.

Moreover, the pastor who avoids prayer, visitation, evangelism, and applying discipline in the congregation will pay the price in time. After a number of years, the congregation will begin to reflect the neglect. They will stop growing in their spiritual lives and will begin to slip morally because they are not receiving God’s word carefully preached and taught. They will feel emotionally neglected because the pastor has failed to visit them in times of need. They will not be challenged to evangelize those around them. They will not be called to account when they sin against one another and against God. They will lose their zeal for the Lord. In short, they will reflect the life of the pastor.

Avoiding sloth and obsessive work requires accountability. It seems the best way is to appoint a couple men to make sure I’m doing what is required, but not overdoing it. They should be people with whom I can be honest about the pressures and boredom of the ministry and who can be lovingly honest with me when I’m going too far in either direction. I should meet with them on a regular basis to evaluate my life and practice. This is not a performance evaluation, but more of a heart evaluation. Am I still zealous for the work? If not, what can be done to restore that zeal? Am I spending enough time with my family and away from the ministry? If so, am I trying to control the church or am I running from problems in my family? These men should pray with me and for me on a regular basis so that I might maintain a balance between the two “demons” and for recovery when I fail to do so.

3. The problems of jealousy and competition and practical ways to remedy those problems.

Jealousy or envy in ministry is covetousness (the desire for more) directed toward other people. Conversely, it is the failure to be content with the gifts, talents, and ministry that God has given me. It is the desire to possess that which God has given to someone else such as a larger, more influential ministry, larger buildings and resources, or the talent to write books or songs. A jealous person is continually striving to gain what someone else has. The result is that he takes for granted what he himself has received from God, and neglects that. Saul was the anointed King of Israel, yet when David began to win military victories for the king, Saul became jealous of David. He despised the fact that the people were acclaiming David over him. Rather than rejoicing in the victories over their common enemy, he became David’s enemy, even trying to kill him many times. As a result of this and other sins, he was deposed as king.

Similarly, when a pastor becomes jealous of another pastor’s influence or gifts, he becomes in effect that man’s enemy. He is joining forces with the devil in sin against the man, rather than rejoicing in that person’s ministry and joining forces with him against the devil. He is likely to lose his ministry because he is spending more time and energy trying to gain what someone else has than on his own ministry.

Competition is comparing oneself to others in an attempt to best the other person, or to stay one step ahead of him. It is one-upsmanship. If my fellow pastor or a pastor from another church accomplishes “A,” I must accomplish “A+1.” I am compelled to show him or myself that I can do something better than the other person. When I was a teenager, a friend and I had an ongoing competition in spring-board diving at the local swimming pool. If he learned a new dive and added it to his arsenal, I had to learn another one to keep up with him. When I learned a new one he had to do the same to keep up with me. We always tried to stay one ahead of each other. That is the nature of competition. In pastoral ministry, competition might consist of comparing the number of members in the church, the number of baptisms in a year, the number of buildings in the complex, or the amount of money spent on the last building project. However, such jealousy and competition are sin.

Instead of engaging in the devil’s work, I should be faithful to do the work God has given me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). If I have a relatively small church or ministry, I should concentrate on making it the best church or ministry it can be whatever its size. If I am primarily a church musician, I should not be jealous of the senior pastor. I should be faithful to use the musical gifts God has given me and rejoice when the pastor uses his gifts so that we complete one another for the glory of God.

Similarly, I should not be jealous of other church musicians who have larger or more influential ministries than I have, but make the most of the situation in which I find myself. I used this principle in high school. I went out for the cross country team in my junior year because the baseball coach made fun of how slowly I ran the bases the previous year. I wanted to prove to him and myself that though I could not run fast, I could run far. That whole year, I never beat anyone on my own team or any opposing team. I came in dead last in every meet. However, I was content with improving my own time with each successive meet. I was content comparing myself with myself because I knew my limitations. Similarly, each of us has limitations in our ministry gifts. We are faithful when we develop them to the best of our ability in the context God has given us to his glory.

4. Practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. Comment on the spiritual disciplines one should exercise in avoiding moral failure.

Lust is evil desire. Sexual lust is evil desire in the arena of sexuality. In 2 Tim 2:22, Paul enjoins his readers to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Two points arise here. First, Paul says that we are to flee lusts, that is to run away from, to shun or avoid them by flight. Likewise, to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “flee immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). Second, we are instead to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. We are to seek after, strive for, or follow righteousness et al. Therefore, we are to run away from lust and run toward righteousness so to speak. We must be proactive like Joseph who ran from the room when invited by Potiphar’s wife to join her in bed.

Following are some practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. First, the pastor should have two men he can be honest with in this area. He should share with them his own struggle and the situations he finds tempting and ask for their help.

Second, he should admit that he struggles in this area like everyone else and try not to be overcome by guilt. He should remember that he is a man with the same temptations and failures as others. This will prevent him from hiding his sin, because when sin is hidden it grows greater in strength. Bring it into the light to diffuse its power.

Third, he must remember that the thought life is the genesis of moral failure. Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5:28). If adultery is committed already in the heart, it is only a small step to commit it in the body.

Fourth, he should avoid viewing certain materials, such as that on Internet pornography sites, Playboy and similar magazines, and certain cable TV channels late at night. Some men avoid using the Internet altogether while others subscribe to services that periodically send their list of websites visited to someone who will review the list and hold them accountable. Traveling can be especially dangerous since the pastor can participate in activities of which his family, congregation, and members of his community are unaware. He can easily buy porn magazines in airport bookstores and view late night pornography on the motel TV or view Internet websites undetected on his laptop computer. To compound the temptation, the pastor, who is normally a pretty lonely guy anyway, is more so without his family. It is therefore best if he can travel with a male companion or with his wife to minimize temptation. He can also have the TV removed from the room if he is staying more than one night.

Fifth, the pastor should be careful of giving signals to women, such as looking too long or touching in the wrong way. Finally, it helps to use a Scriptural reminder that one can repeat to himself in times of temptation such as Job’s saying, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31:1).

Spiritual disciplines to avoid moral failure include the study of God’s word, meditation, prayer, confession, fellowship and worship. We should continually study God’s word on passages regarding immorality and purity. As we study these passages, we discover and capture God’s heart for righteousness and purity and his disdain for immorality. As we meditate on these passages, we memorize and internalize God’s will in this area and it becomes a part of us and a refuge in times of temptation. Prayer is a source of strength as well. In prayer we seek God’s strength to overcome temptation and we confess our failures.

We also confess our failures to other trusted people so that they can help us avoid the pitfalls of immorality and pray for us. True fellowship (koinonia) with other believers is a source of help as well. A pastor friend of mine says that addiction to pornography is a search for intimacy in the wrong way. Rather than delivering true intimacy, it delivers self-gratification that never satisfies and causes one to desire more and more. It is not surprising that intimacy is lacking in our self-sufficient society. We pretend that we don’t need one another, but we give ourselves away with our addiction to pornography. As we participate in true fellowship by opening ourselves more fully to a few people who can be trusted, our need for false intimacy will lessen. Moreover, as we open ourselves more fully to God in worship, it will have a similar effect.

5. The value of “chips” in pastoral and ecclesiastical politics. Give an ethical brief for the acquisition of “chips.”

“Chips” are personal political power or influence that is acquired by pastors when they minister to the needs of other people, whether in the local church or in higher church courts. When a pastor ministers to a person in the hospital, or who has a tragedy in the family, or some other valid need, the pastor collects “chips.” He is not only demonstrating love for the member, he is gathering influence that can be used later on. When the pastor has a need for political clout, he can “cash in” the chips he has collected with these people. Because he has ministered to them in a personal way, they are willing to help him accomplish his goals.

The essence of the principle is “I’ll scratch your back today so you’ll scratch my back tomorrow.” In ecclesiastical politics it may take another form. The pastor might support an issue of a group of elders on the session today. In return, those elders will be more willing to support an issue he holds dear later on. In the Presbytery or General Assembly, a pastor may speak in favor of a particular issue today and receive support from those he helped at another time when he has an issue before the court.

This is wrong when it is done by the pastor for personal gain (for me), but it is valid when the pastor does it for the good of the Body of Christ or the Kingdom of God (for us). What is at issue is the glory of God, and the purity and unity of the church. If the pastor’s aim in collecting “chips” is self-aggrandizement, gaining glory for himself, immorality or schism, then he is clearly in the wrong. The pastor must ask himself what his motive is in helping someone else. Is he seeking his own ends or is he seeking to further God’s kingdom?

For instance, it is common for a pastor who is visiting a member in the hospital to leave his card with a note if the person is asleep or out of the room when the pastor drops by. That way the person and his family knows that the pastor made a visit. Is this self-serving on the part of the pastor? If he does so only for more influential or wealthy members, then he would be showing favoritism, which is forbidden in James 2. But if he does so for every member, then he is preserving the peace and unity of the church.

Worse still is the pastor who fails to visit or tend to the needs of the less influential people at all, but spends most of his time hobnobbing with those from whom he can gather more “chips.” This pastor is obviously more concerned with his own welfare than that of the church. This can be the beginning of a schism in the church, the have’s and the pastor versus the have not’s.

On the other hand, as long as the pastor meets the needs of all the people in an even-handed way, if he spends more time with those who wield the power in order to get them on his side for the good of the entire church, this is valid. So long as his motive is the welfare of the Body of Christ and he does not show favoritism as he ministers, then he is doing well.

6. Why a personal ministry philosophy and a congregational ministry philosophy are important and how they are related.

A ministry philosophy describes the basic covenants, goals and plans a person or a church has for his/its ministry. Basically, this is a personal or church mission statement – “I/we will do this, I/we will not do that,” “I/we believe this, I/we do not believe that.” This is the line beyond which the person or church will not go on particular issues and practices such as doctrine, race, programs, polity, worship style, giving, and family. These are guided by Scripture first, then personal preference. No person or church can do all things, so they must choose what they consider the most important. These should be thought through and set down when a person or church leadership has a clear head, so that when the issues arise, it has already been decided what will be done.

If these are not decided ahead of time, the person or church will drift about and will be unduly influenced by those around them or among them who speak the most or the loudest. A person’s ministry philosophy should be in fairly close agreement with that of the church he serves in order for the relationship to work. Divergent philosophies can work together only if there is significant flexibility on both sides. Otherwise they will be pulling in opposing directions and the church will become confused and side-tracked by infighting. One group will want to follow the pastor while another group will want to follow the church’s philosophy and many will be caught in the middle.

The church I served had an established philosophy, but the new pastor’s was decidedly different, though this was not apparent at the outset. Over several years, he attempted to change the church’s philosophy, but because he did so in a covert manner, his efforts failed. He would have been better off never to have come or to at least to have registered his differences coming in and asked the church if they were willing to change.

The pastor must have his resignation prepared so that when he is asked to go beyond his philosophy he can tender it. The sooner the better. When a congregation’s philosophy violates Scripture, the pastor may be called to serve as a prophet. He may win the battle, but divide the church or he may win the battle for the next pastor. Then again, he may lose and have to leave.

However, most church ministry philosophies are simply a matter of taste. That is, in most cases, it is not wrong, it is just different. It is often simply a cultural issue that varies from one locale to another or one group of people to another. The wise pastor goes slowly when enacting change in a congregation’s philosophy so that he can maintain the peace of the church.

Originally written for Dr. Steve Brown, Theology of Ministry, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003.

Case Study: Women in Ministry

Written for Drs. Al Mawhinney and Reggie Kidd, Senior Seminar, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

The role of women in ministry is a significant issue in our day which deserves careful consideration in the churches. As a result of our discussion on this topic I realized that there are still quite a few issues that I need to consider on this subject. I had believed that the main issue for me (at least in my denomination) was whether I felt comfortable in a church with women elders or not. From what I have gathered so far, there do not appear to be any churches with women pastors, but there are a number who have opted for women ruling elders, especially in the western presbyteries. I believed, and still do, that Scripture supports a unity among men and women before God as persons created in his image (Gen. 1:27; Gal. 3:28), but assigns different functions under God.

Men and women are fellow heirs of the promise (Gal. 3:29), yet the creation ordinance and the teaching of the New Testament assign them different roles. Man’s role is one of authority while the woman’s role is service. God placed man in authority over woman in the family and in the church (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:3,8,9; Eph. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 3:1,5-6; 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:12). In contrast, woman’s role is that of service (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9). Therefore, I conclude that Scripture does not seem to warrant women elders who would exercise authority over men (in the sense of authoritative, binding ecclesiastical teaching), based especially on 1 Tim. 2: 12. However, there may be warrant for the role of women deacons since their function is one of service. I had already concluded that I would not feel comfortable serving in a church with women pastors or elders. Yet now I am asking myself if I am wrong to serve in a denomination that allows such diversity, or whether it is permissible as long as I serve in churches who think as I do. I am also asking myself what I would do if I was serving as an Associate Pastor and the church called a woman pastor to serve as the Senior Pastor. I would not want to make a scene by leaving in anticipation of her arrival, but I would find myself in a compromised situation if I stayed. I plan to attend the EPC General Assembly this summer in Brighton, Michigan and will try to gather more information on these questions while I’m there. I noticed that the featured (female) speaker for the Women’s Ministries luncheon, Jan Juday, serves as an elder and Pastoral Associate at the host church. Her responsibilities, according to the brochure, include congregational care and oversight of the women’s ministries. She previously served the GA Office as the national Director of Women’s Ministries for seven years. (Incidentally, I look forward to seeing Mike Glodo there too!) However important this one question is, it seems from our discussion that the question of eldership is just the tip of the iceberg.

Three other issues we discussed that I noted for further study, consideration and discussion include the question of women deacons, women in other leadership roles in the church, and the issue of dignity and recognition of women in the home. Our presenter, Bruce Benedict, brought out the question of women deacons as discussed in Clowney’s The Church: Contours of Christian Theology. He noted Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Rom. 16.1 “who is a servant (diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea.” The passage does not make it crystal clear whether or not she holds the office of deacon or is simply a servant (diakonos) of the church in the same way as Epaphras and Tychicus are servants (diakonos) “of”, or “in” the Lord in Col. 1:7 and 4:7. It is notable, however, that she is explicitly called a diakonos “of the church.” Most other references in the Epistles associated with a person’s name like those of Epaphras and Tychicus use the designation diakonos “of the Lord” or “in the Lord” which seem to be much less likely a designation of a church office. Second, Clowney notes that 1 Tim. 3:11 is an ambiguous reference either to women as deacons or wives of deacons. The NAU translates Gunai/kaj w`sau,twj semna,j( mh. diabo,louj( nhfali,ouj( pista.j evn pa/sin as “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things,” while the NIV prefers “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” The NAU seems to be the better translation since the Greek lacks the possessive indicated in the NIV. The passage’s appearance in the middle of a discussion about deacons also leaves it ambiguous. It could refer to women deacons or the wives of deacons. One factor that mitigates the possibility of it referring to women deacons is the following verse which specifies that “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (3:12 NAU). Obviously, women deacons cannot be husbands. In summary, the Scriptural evidence for women deacons seems plausible but sketchy and may or may not warrant the role of women deacons in the church. This leaves the question open. I do not know whether my denomination allows for women deacons or not. That is something else I’ll need to check on this summer.

Another issue brought to the fore in our discussion is the role of women in other leadership roles in the church. Given the prohibition of women serving as elders which flies in the face of our egalitarian culture, there is a need to clearly communicate the biblical viewpoint, lovingly help people to understand, and then fling open the door for women to serve in a wide variety of leadership roles under the authority of the elders and pastors. As Dr. Mawhinney commented, many of our churches have exhibited a “restricted view of the office of believers” and therefore a restricted view of leadership under ecclesiastical authority. A broader view would allow women to teach not only children and younger women, but also men and women in mixed classes and in certain instances, from the pulpit; to lead worship through music and prayer; to prophesy (however that is defined in various settings); to exhort; to heal; and to administrate, in addition to serving in more traditional ways. Such a broader view of the office of believers would facilitate the extension of the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, rather than restricting Phoebe, instead, commended her to the Roman church and asked them to offer their assistance in her ministry among them: “that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:2).

This leads to the final point. One of the participants in our discussion said something like, “Men need help to give their wives the dignity they deserve in the family. Women are crying out for recognition.” It is likely that women are suffering as they are both because of the restricted view of the office of believers in the church described above, but also because of the restricted view of the office of “wife” among many husbands. Many men, including myself, have attempted to neutralize their wives, either out of fear of losing control in the current feminist-driven atmosphere of our culture, or simply out of personal insecurity. Instead, husbands should give their all for the sake of their wives, just as Christ did for the church. As Eph. 5:25-28 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.”

Pastors need to teach men to follow the example of Paul when he commended Phoebe (Rom. 16:2 above). First, Paul recognized her character. By asking the Roman church to “receive her in the Lord” he implicitly commended her faithfulness. His letter of recommendation implied his trust in her faithfulness to continue in the manner she had served in the past. Second, Paul recognized her accomplishments. He acknowledged what she had done. He called a “helper of many” and of himself. Third, he recognized her publicly. He acknowledged her accomplishments to the entire Roman church in the form of an open letter. Fourth, Paul recognized her worthiness. He asked the church to “help her in whatever she may have need of you.” Granted, Phoebe was not married to Paul. But how much more should the men of our churches build up their wives in a similar manner. Paul serves as an example of how men can build the self-esteem of their wives by granting them the dignity they deserve in the family and in the church.

Case Study: Right to Life – Abortion

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003. 

This case study deals with a pastor caught between two sides of the Right to Life – Abortion issue. One of his active elders came to him with a concern that the pastor spent too much time on the abortion issue in the church. In the same week, one of his active deacons came to him concerned that the pastor spent too little time on the abortion issue in the church. In both cases they reported that “a large segment of the congregation” was “very upset” about the pastor’s actions. Before Dr. Cannada explained more of the circumstances of the case, I suggested that the pastor begin by speaking with each man individually, then speak with any others who may be involved, and bring it before the elders and deacons if necessary. I also suggested a series of teachings on the abortion issue among the elders and deacons if warranted. However, according to Dr. Cannada, the second, third and fourth steps were not required in this case. Fortunately, the first meeting with each man revealed the problems. No other individuals in the church were apparently concerned with this issue. As a result, the pastor was obliged only to meet with the two individuals.

In the first case, the elder felt upset because of a friend whose wife had received an abortion many years ago on the advice of their family doctor. This couple also attended the church. The elder apparently supported the couple’s decision to have the abortion. As result, he took offense on their behalf every time the pastor spoke or wrote about his views against abortion. The couple in question had never voiced their concern or discomfort, if they had any, to the pastor. (Nor did they ever do so in the future). I am not sure whether the couple had ever voiced any discomfort about the pastor’s actions to the elder. In any case, the elder took offense on their behalf because he was convinced that they may be upset by the pastor’s actions. I can imagine the elder saying something to the pastor such as, “How can you condemn the actions of such a nice couple?” The pastor did not feel he should change his stance on the issue because of this man’s view. Nor did the elder change his stance. As it turned out, the pastor was forced in this case to simply live in the tension of knowing that someone did not like what he was doing, and neither man left the church over the issue.

In the second case, when the pastor met with the deacon individually, he discovered that the man’s daughter had previously been involved in an “Operation Rescue” event. As a result, she was arrested and incarcerated for a period of time during which her home church (in another city) had refused to pray for her because they did not believe in supporting civil disobedience. The deacon became upset with her church for failing to support his daughter in a time of need. Now the deacon was releasing his frustrations on the pastor of his own church by insisting that the pastor was not doing too little to uphold the Right to Life cause. He felt that the church service should include prayer every week concerning this important national issue. Once again, the pastor refused to change his practice based on one person’s view and was forced to live in the tension of knowing that someone did not approve of his actions. He felt he made the case clearly and frequently enough to make the congregation and leaders aware that Scripture forbade the practice of abortion.

On this issue the pastor was convinced that abortion was contrary to Scripture. Following are the data to support this premise. First, all human beings, including children, are created in the image of God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), and as such are protected by God’s prohibition against murder, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen. 9:6; cf. Exo. 20:13). Second, the unborn are treated as persons in Scripture. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psa. 139:13; cf. Jer. 1:5). Here the Psalmist was speaking as a living person, looking back on his formation in the womb. There is no distinction between his person-hood inside and outside the womb. Compare Jer. 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah was known as a person whom God had chosen for prophetic ministry even before he was formed in the womb. Alcorn (238-239) has noted that the same Greek word, brephos, is used in Scripture of the unborn as well as those already born. For example, this word is used of the preborn John the Baptist who he leaped in his mother’s womb in response to the preborn Jesus in Mary’s womb. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby (brephos) leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit… As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby (brephos) in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:41, 44). This same word is used when the angel Gabriel referred to the new-born Christ. “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby (brephos) wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” … So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby (brephos), who was lying in the manger (Luke 2:12, 16). The same word in the plural is used in Luke 18:15 of “People [who] were also bringing babies (brephe) to Jesus to have him touch them,” and in Acts 7:19 of the babies (brephe) that Pharoah intended to kill after Moses’ birth. Third, God defends and protects the lives of the defenseless and needy. “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psa. 10:17-18). In God’s name, we should come to their defense as well. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). In fact, whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Mat. 25:40). Fourth, rape, incest and birth defects do not justify the taking of the life of a child, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16; cf. Is. 45:9-10). This is an important issue in our day, a practice soundly condemned by Scripture, not unlike a the forbidden practice of offering children in sacrifice to Molech which arose under certain evil kings in Israel’s history. “‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD”’ (Lev. 18:21). “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags” (Is. 57:5). Finally, God forgives the sin of abortion. For those who confess and repent, God’s grace sets us free from sin and leads to eternal life. “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21; cf. 1 Jn. 1:9; Gal. 6:1).

In regard to the abortion issue, several social and psychological dynamics should be considered. First is the fear of “laying a guilt trip” on those in our churches who have participated in abortions in the past. One might be concerned that speaking of a past sin may cause undue regret or sorrow. However, Scripture reminds us that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2Co 7:10). If the sinner remains unrepentant, this will lead to agonizing sorrow and death. However, the goal is repentance which leads to life and peace. So the caring pastor will preach against abortion with a view to healing those who have committed this sin in the past and warning those who may be considering it in the present or in the future. Someone has said that in fact, our fear that there may be more at this time next year should urge us on.

Some pastors and churches make the mistake of waiting for revival to come to solve the abortion problem. However, Scripture frequently reveals that the opposite strategy works better. Revival often follows coming to grips with our sin (Alcorn, 222). “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8-10). While it is good to pray for revival. It is well to repent and do works of righteousness as we wait. Defending the helpless should be ongoing.

Following is a tentative plan of action for the pastor in this case. First, when faced with a potential congregational uprising over a particular issue it is important to remember not to jump to conclusions out of fear. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). It is best to remain calm. When a disgruntled person reports that others are upset about an issue, it may or may not be true, so don’t panic. The wise pastor may also seek counsel with another trusted elder or advisory team before beginning the process or may do so anywhere along the route. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Prov. 19:20). “Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22). The pastor should meet with each of the individuals to discover what issues and feelings are involved. If an understanding can be reached that may be the end of it. In these cases, the pastor did not need to meet with any others since no one else reported being upset. However, he did need to deal with the tension of living with a standing disagreement. This brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s treatment of “disputable matters” in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Paul acknowledged that some issues in the early church were not life and death matters, such as eating foods sacrificed to idols, or the observance of sacred days. Now in the case of abortion it certainly is a life or death issue. However, as long as it is treated as sin and dealt with forthrightly, the relative amount of emphasis placed on it in the services is not. In such cases Paul says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom. 14:5-6). Therefore, in matters that are disputable, it should be between each man and the Lord. Each person should be convinced in his own mind according to his understanding of Scripture and his conscience. The pastor, as the spiritual leader of the flock, must remain true to Scripture in his teaching and practice on this issue, for “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23b). So the pastor should remain as he is in this case, contenting himself with allowing the men to share their feelings with him, but not feeling compelled to make any measurable changes based on their views.

The dangers of such a plan are several. First, the men may choose to leave the church. However, in an older church such as this, folks are more likely to stay and fight about the issue shifting the focus from ministry to infighting. If they feel strongly enough, they may draw together a group who agree with them to stand against the pastor to try to make him change or even leave. Fortunately, that did not happen in this case.


Alcorn, Randy. Pro Life Answers to Pro Choice Arguments. Portland: Multnomah, 1994.

Frame, John, M., Robert L. Malarkey, and Joseph Memmelaar. Report of the Committee to Study the Matter of Abortion, revised ed. Presented to the Thirty-eighth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, May 24-29, 1971. Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1984.

Originally written for Drs. Al Mawhinney and Reggie Kidd, Senior Seminar, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

Response to "The Israel of God" by O.P. Robertson

Written for Dr. Richard Pratt, Prophets, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, April 2004.

Chapter 1: The Land

This chapter was helpful in summarizing a number of things I’ve heard in various classes about “the land,” and especially helpful in understanding the current controversy among Evangelicals regarding the promise of land to the Jews. Robertson points out that the promise of land to Abraham and his spiritual inheritance is the promise of a restored paradise after its loss in the fall under Adam. Abraham understood, even in his day, that since he did not inherit the physical land that the covenant promised him, that he was to look forward to a heavenly city and a heavenly land that he and those who followed him by faith would one day inherit in the restoration of the entire cosmos. The land he was promised, with identifiable borders between the Euphrates River and Egypt, then, was merely a shadow of the restored heavens and earth he and other believers would inherit when Christ comes in judgment and glory as full Messianic ruler of the restored cosmos. Abraham’s descendants were not wrong to inhabit the land that had been promised them, though they never did so to perfection, but they too, should have looked forward, as Abraham did, by faith to the possession of the restored cosmos under the rulership of the Messiah. The modern-day controversy over the restoration of the physical land of Israel to the Jews is put into perspective by this. Those who believe that one day the Jews will receive the land of Israel as their inheritance are misinformed.

The land of Israel is only a shadow of what is to come. Moreover, the promise is not to the people of national Israel but to the “Israel of God,” spiritual Israel, that is, true believers from every tongue, tribe and nation. Therefore, the promise of land is not the real estate between the Euphrates and Egypt to national Israel, but the whole restored heavens and earth to all those who have professed faith in the coming Messiah throughout the ages and from every nation on earth. One question that remains in my mind is whether there will be a geographically central location in the new heavens and new earth where Christ will dwell and God’s throne will be located.

Chapter 2: The People

“The Israel of God” is identified as all those people who place their faith in the God of Abraham who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile regarding their inclusion into the family of God. In fact, it has always been the case since Abraham’s calling while he was still a pagan “Gentile” All who would one day embrace his God were welcomed into the body of believers, whether they were part of his family or outside of it. Today, only those who deny that there is a distinction between Jew and Gentile are part of the body of Christ. Jews still have the advantage of being descendants of those who inherited the law and the promises, yet must enter the family of God by means of faith.

The question of to whom the historical “promised land” belongs is addressed. This is tricky because those Jews who are not part of spiritual Israel claim the land on the basis of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants. They cannot understand that this is typological language for the whole cosmos that will be inherited by all true believers in the new heavens and new earth under Jesus as Messiah. Therefore, those who administer and negotiate the occupation of the land must be at once sensitive to the historic claim by the Jews and the claim by those who have occupied the land for centuries. Those whom the Jews would move out without just compensation or by force of arms, it seems, should be protected. However, this is contrary to what many Evangelicals have said in the past and would be difficult to defend.

Chapter 3: Its Worship

This helps me understand the controversy among some Jews and even Evangelicals today who promote the reestablishment of the temple on Mt. Zion and of its ritual sacrifices. It’s an example of something that would be “nice” for traditional Jews who are not Christians, so that they would be able to return to their traditional form of worship. However, it would not serve any true function in the spiritual realm and may even bring a further curse from God since in the new covenant He has superseded the typological temple and sacrifices by the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ’s body has taken the place of the temple. True worship is now in spirit and truth and its focus is the heavenly Jerusalem where Christ dwells at the right hand of the Father ever making intercession for us as our high priest. The place of Christ’s dwelling, the New Jerusalem, takes the place of the temple as the location of worship. Therefore, true worship can take place at any location on earth, because Christ, the high priest, has both offered the sacrifice and served himself as the sacrificial lamb in our place and thus has opened the way for us to eternally worship the living God.

Chapter 4: Its Lifestyle

Robertson’s proposal for the lifestyle of the new covenant community as similar to the wilderness experience of Israel is compelling. It certainly lends itself to an understanding of the “already/not yet” of our experience between the two comings of Christ. We are essentially freed from bondage to sin as Israel was free from bondage to servitude in Egypt. Yet we are still faced with the daily choices between obedience and rebellion, just as Israel was. Finally, we look forward to a “better place” in our heavenly home just as Israel looked forward to better conditions in the land of promise.

Robertson notes that this premise flies in the face of modern-day triumphalism that tells us we have already, or should expect to receive in this present age, all the promises of God. Instead, we should, like Israel in the desert, live in obedience and patience in the day to day world in which God has placed us, looking forward to that day when all the promises will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ.

Chapter 5: The Coming of the Kingdom

This chapter addresses the question of the role of Israel in the coming kingdom. The long and the short of his conclusion in this chapter is that Israel’s role consists primarily of being the seedbed from which the kingdom was birthed through its Messiah, Jesus, and his twelve disciples, all sons of Israel. From them and from their base in Jerusalem, the gospel has been extended to all nations. Moreover, all those who become true believers are identified as the “true Israel.” This is consistent with the covenant with Abraham, that through him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Robertson emphasizes that the church does not “replace” Israel, rather, that a renewed, restored Israel of God is constituted as the church takes shape. I had always thought that the church’s role was to replace Israel, but I see his point here. The concept of a renewed, restored Israel in the church, that contains both Jews and Gentiles, maintains a sense of continuity between the old and new covenants that is reflected in Scripture. So, it is the church, but it is also still Israel in a renewed form.

Some have said that Jesus did not respond to the disciples when they asked about the restoring of the kingdom to Israel “at this time.” Robertson shows that Christ did in fact address all three issues by indicating that the Holy Spirit would bring in the kingdom, the domain was the whole world, and the timing would begin when the Holy Spirit’s power would be released, which turned out to be in just a few days at Pentecost.

Second, Robertson shows that, according to the book of Revelation, Israel does not seem to play a privileged role in the consummation except that all the subjects of the kingdom, whether originally Jews or Gentiles, are said to belong to the “twelve tribes of Israel,” the full manifestation of what God intended in the first place, a people with a new heart who are loyal to him in every respect. Robertson argues that Revelation 20 contains no reference to Israel playing a special role during the millennial kingdom, nor does it give evidence of a third stage of the kingdom, but only two, consisting of “this age” and “the age to come.” His argument for this contains the same elements we learned in Dr. Hill’s class last year.

Chapter 6: Israel of God in Romans 11

Romans 11 has been used by some to demonstrate that ethnic Israel will play a distinct role at the end of the church age. Some have contended that, among other things, there will be a massive turning of the Jews to Christ in a relatively short period of time close to the return of Christ, and that in some form, “all Israel” will be saved. There are at least four views as to what “all Israel” means, and Robertson argues that two are relatively viable according to Scripture. He supports the arguments that it refers to the salvation of either, 1) all elect Jews and Gentiles, or 2) all elect Jews; but rejects 3) the salvation of all ethnic Jews of all times, and 4) the salvation of all ethnic Jews living at that time. His argument seems plausible and likely according to Scripture. What seems sure from Scripture and history is that God has been using the interplay of Jewish unbelief leading to Gentile belief leading in turn to Jewish belief out of envy over and over through the generations at least since Pentecost.