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Saints or Sinners?

“To the sinners who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus….”  That’s not how Paul begins his letter to the Ephesian churches, is it?  No, it is not.  He does not address his epistle “to the sinners in Ephesus,” but to “the saints who are in Ephesus.”  And that being the case, how might that be instructive to pastors in speaking to their congregations?

Now, as a pastor, I realize that the church is full of sinners (being one of those sinners myself), and this excursus is by no means an attempt to soft peddle sin as not being a big deal.  Sin is a big deal, and it is never to be treated lightly.  However, how might Paul’s addressing the Ephesians churches in this way teach pastors about the disposition they ought to have toward those they are called to shepherd?  Does he view them first as saints?  Or as sinners?  Based on Paul’s example here, and virtually every epistle he wrote, the overwhelming evidence is to view the church as comprised of saints.

At first glance, this might appear to be a splitting of hairs or an unnecessary distinction, but let us consider for a few moments what the implications might be of each perspective.  First, if my fundamental view of the church is that it is full of sinners, then what are my expectations going to be of the congregation?  What is my default thinking going to be?  I am going to expect problems, and view people as the source of potential problems, won’t I?  However, if I view the congregation as saints, then (hopefully) I am viewing them as a redeemed people, a people with a new identity in Christ.  Isn’t that also how Paul argues in his letters?  Doesn’t he first remind the people of who they are in Christ, and then address their sin and shortcomings?

Consider Paul’s argumentation in Colossians.  In 3:1-4, he writes, If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  That is where he begins.

Then, in 3:5-10, he exhorts them,  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (ESV).

So, again, the perspective of viewing the congregation fundamentally as saints does not neglect addressing sin.  Rather, it gives even more weight to the exhortation of living according to the renewed image in Christ.

By way of analogy, how should a father view his children?  As little sinners who are a constant project and source of irritation?  Or as those in whom he takes pleasure and cares for?  These two dispositions will result in very different environments in the home.  The latter disposition does not negate discipline, but actually creates an environment in which discipline can thrive. Likewise, in the church, when the pastor views the congregation first and foremost according to who they are in Christ, he is going to speak to them (particularly in his preaching) from that vantage point.   This is Paul’s example, and, as it is followed, may it result in the same as the apostle desired: a people who more fully understand their identity in Christ; a people who know themselves to be saints.

A Voice from the Northwest

This is a link to Jeff Meyer’s blog with a must-read brief written by Rob Rayburn.  The brief is simply outstanding, especially if you are familiar with some of the theological “discussions” that have been taking place within the PCA over the past seven years.

The Death of the Good Samaritan

In a country that continues to lose its moral bearings, is it any wonder that it is increasingly more difficult to distinguish between those who really need help and those who do not?

In the years I lived and worked in Chattanooga, I cannot begin to recount all of the times that I was approached by someone on the street asking for money.  On one occasion, a man in an wheelchair popped a wheelie and ended up tipping over backwards.  I quickly went over to ask him if he was okay, thinking he could have hit his head on the pavement.  He rolled over onto his knees, looked up at me and asked for money.  A friend who was with him promptly smacked him on the head.

On another occasion, a friend of mine and I were coming out of the movies and were approached by a fellow named “Kevin Smith.”  We listened to his story, and decided to give him a ride to the Salvation Army.  They would not take him in, and when we planned to leave him there he got a bit upset.  Finally, we agreed to drop him off at a restaurant, and gave him a few bucks for something to eat.  My friend invited him to church, and over to his house for a meal on Sunday after church.  He offered to pick him up, and told him where to be and at what time.  He never showed.  Some years later, “Kevin Smith” approached me while I was on a lunch break.  He did not recognize me, and before he could begin his story I simply said, “I don’t have any money for you.”  He walked away without a word.

The other night I was on my way home from a meeting, and coming around the exit ramp noticed a man standing outside of his car trying to waive someone down.  I pulled over and rolled down the passenger-side window, and, boy, was he happy to see me.  I am not going to attempt to recount everything he said, but his basic claim was that he needed money for gas, and TDOT would be there in about 20 minutes with a gas can.  Shortly after I gave him some money, he drove away.

Many of you will recall that the final episodes of the TV sitcom Seinfeld were centered around an incident when Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer all witness a car-jacking, and make no attempt to come to the victim’s aid.  Shortly thereafter, they are arrested for not adhering to the newly passed “Good Samaritan Law.”  Their indifference (and the history of their indifference) becomes the focal point of the story, allowing for clip after clip from previous seasons to be shown again.  Their self-centered lives ultimately prove to be their undoing, and the last laugh is on them.  What an interesting cultural commentary upon our society this provides, and how ironic that our societal decline is even evidenced by those claiming to need the help of a Good Samaritan.

Living as the Church Conference – April 16-18, 2010

The Significance of Song & Singing

Speaker: James B. Jordan

In his Theses on Worship, James Jordan writes, “Praise…dictates something about our music….”

How important is music to the life of the Church? Does God give us any specifics about what to sing? What does the history of the Church teach us about music? Is style of music simply a matter of taste? If you have ever asked yourself these or similar questions, then please join us for the “Living as the Church Conference: The Significance of Song & Singing.” James Jordan will be answering questions such as these, while leading us to a deeper understanding of a biblical theology of music.

Audio from the conference is available HERE


Session #1: Friday, April 16 – 7:00-8:00 PM
Wine, Women, and Song: Being a Discourse on the Enemy’s Attempts to Destroy the Three Gifts of the New Creation

Session #2: Saturday, April 17 – 9:30-10:30 AM
The Dancing Church: Being an Exploration of the Nature of the Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation

10:30-11:00 AM  Break

Session #3: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Can YOU Dig It? Being a Challenge to the Conference to Toughen Up and Sing Right

Lord’s Day Worship: Sunday, April 18 10 AM – 11:30 AM
Inhabiting the Praises of Israel: One Reason Why God Is So Often Absent from the Church Today

33JAMES B. JORDAN graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Comparative Literature. After a tour in the US Air Force, Mr. Jordan attended Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Mississippi) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), graduating with a Th.M. in Systematic Theology. Mr. Jordan was awarded an honorary D.Litt. degree from the Central School of Religion (England). Since the late 1980s Mr. Jordan has been the director of Biblical Horizons, now located in Niceville, Florida. Mr. Jordan is the author of numerous books, most prominently Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, and many scholarly monographs and short essays.

Patterns in Luke 1

I might be stealing a bit of thunder from Sunday, but let’s give some thought to the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  It is widely agreed that Luke presents the birth announcements to Zechariah and Mary (1:5-38) in such a way that, as the reader, we are meant to compare and contrast them.  But it is also interesting to consider a pattern that seems to emerge between the account of Gabriel’s visitation with Mary (26-38) and Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth (39-56).  Note the following sequence:

  1. Gabriel is sent to a city of Galilee (26).  Mary goes to a town in Judah (39).
  2. Gabriel greets Mary (28).  Mary greets Elizabeth (40).
  3. Mary reacts to Gabriel’s greeting (29).  John (in the womb) and Elizabeth react to Mary’s greeting (41-42)
  4. Gabriel announces God’s favor and that Mary’s womb will bear the Son of the Most High (30-33).  Elizabeth announces blessing on Mary’s position among women and the fruit of her womb (42).
  5. Mary asks a question (34).  Elizabeth asks a question (43).
  6. Gabriel reveals the Lord’s plan and that Elizabeth is with child (35-37).  Elizabeth reveals her child’s reaction and blesses Mary for believing the Lord’s plan (44-45) (a subtle chiasm, perhaps?).
  7. Mary responds to Gabriel’s words (38).  Mary responds to Elizabeth’s words (46-55).
  8. Gabriel departs (38).  Mary departs (56).

At the very least, we can conclude that the text is masterfully written.  As to why Luke would employ this pattern is a more difficult question to answer.  However, if we examine the overarching patterns of Luke 1-7, we observe that the scenes switch back and forth between John and Jesus, with Jesus receiving the greater amount of attention and detail.  This might give us a clue as to what Luke is doing in chapter 1.  By employing these parallels, Luke is emphasizing the announcement of Jesus’ birth, and building the anticipation for its fulfillment.  But note again how Luke crafts the story.  No sooner does Mary depart from Elizabeth’ s home in v. 56, then the scene switches to the account of John’sbirth.  We are left in suspense for twenty-two verses!  We have to wait all the way until chapter 2 to read about Jesus’ birth.  Then, with the help of angels and shepherds, we begin to understand why Luke went to such great lengths to craft the accounts of chapter 1.

Off the Shelf: Cyndere’s Midnight


Cyndere’s Midnight is the second book in the Auralia Thread by Jeffrey Overstreet, and is another thoroughly enjoyable read that I heartily recommend.  The plot and pace of the book makes it difficult to put down, and you will probably find yourself wanting to sneak away to a quiet room in the house or a corner in a coffee shop in order to read undisturbed.  As the story progresses from Auralia’s Colors, the obvious and subtle imagery Mr. Overstreet employs in Cyndere’s Midnight builds a delightful sense of anticipation and thoughtful reflection.  Here is another bit of fiction that will not leave you disappointed.

Absent from the Body

This story is commendable on a number of levels.

Capturing the Carol

A_Christmas_Carol_fezziwigFor a recent book study at St. Mark, we read and discussed Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.  With Advent just a couple of weeks away, I wondered how reading this tale might influence our thinking, and impact our Christmas celebrations.  Time will tell, I suppose, but it dawned on me some days after the discussion what might be the most important contribution that A Christmas Carol can make to our present generation; an obvious fact that initially eluded my contemplations of the story.  What is it?  Pictures.  Pictures of real, meaningful and unapologetic celebration.  Celebration that has a purity and essence that we moderns have lost, and desperately need to regain.

G.K. Chesterton contended that Dickens “was not only English, but unconsciously historic.  Upon him descended the real tradition of ‘Merry England,’ and not upon the pallid mediaevalists who thought they were reviving it.  The Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothicists, the admirers of the Middle Ages, had in their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day.  Dickens had in his buffoonery and bravery the spirit of the Middle Ages.  He was much more mediaeval in his attacks on mediaevalism than they were in their defences of it….

“In fighting for Christmas he was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking, and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.  He had himself the most babyish ideas about the past.  He supposed the Middle Ages to have consisted of tournaments and torture-chambers, he supposed himself to be a brisk man of the manufacturing age, almost Utilitarian.  But for all that he defended the mediaeval feast which was going out against the Utilitarianism which was coming in.  He could only see all that was bad in mediaevalism, but he fought for all that was good in it.  And he was all the more really in sympathy with the old strength and simplicity because he knew that it was good and did not know that it was old.  He cared as little for mediaevilsm as the mediaevals did.  He cared as much as they did for lustiness and virile laughter and sad tales of good lovers and pleasant tales of good livers. . . . He had no pleasure in looking on the dying Middle Ages.  But he looked on the living Middle Ages, on a piece of the old uproarious superstition still unbroken; and he hailed it like a new religion.  The Dickens character ate pudding to an extent at which the modern mediaevilists turned pale” (Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men).

It is precisely this ever-present spirit that sings to us throughout the carol.  Who among is not drawn to the infectious, heart-felt joy of Scrooge’s nephew?  Who among us would not thrill to throw ourselves to the dance with Old Fezziwig and his wife?  Would we dare to be too serious, or claim we have not practiced enough?  Who of us would not confess, with Dickens himself, the desire to be one of the children who “were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child conducting itself like forty?”  And we have yet to mention the elaborate descriptions of food that can no more be supported on the page than the prize turkey by its legs.  Can any of us approach the delight of the Cratchits in their goose, pudding, and each another?   Would any of us venture not to join the revelry with Fred, his wife and their friends?  Would we be too mature for their games?  Or would we understand that “it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

We need these pictures, for they instruct us in the life to be lived.  They give us glimpses of the life we have neglected, and need to restore.  They are pictures of hearts that laugh, and know truly the meaning of “Merry Christmas!”  Let us listen well to Dickens’ Carol, and hasten to join the song.

Off the Shelf: Auralia’s Colors


Last night I finished Jeffrey Overstreet’s book, Auralia’s Colors.  It is an engaging, beautifully descriptive, and masterfully woven tale.  This is a story with layers.  In fact, I am finding myself tempted to pick it up and start over again to see what else I can glean from it’s pages.  The climax and ending were not what I was expecting, so now I am left to impatiently await the arrival of the second book of the series in the mail,  Cyndere’s Midnight.  If you enjoy a bit of fiction, you will not be disappointed by Auralia’s Colors.

Which Worship Model?

Another gem from Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Kings.  Regarding the story of 2 Kings 16, he writes:

The account of Ahaz raises another challenge to contemporary Christian practice.  For a variety of reasons, Christian worship in many contemporary churches has adopted liturgical styles from the worlds of entertainment or advertising.  When success depends on copying the latest methods, the church’ apparently staid traditionalism, its claim to be the object of God’s special favor, its claims to be the Eden of God, the holy mountain, the house of the living God, can look quaint if not downright proud.

PJL Kings

Better to adjust our worship and our language to the dominant cultural power, it is thought, than to keep up the arrogant pretense that we enjoy a special status.  In adapting itself to the world, the church is departing from the pattern or model that should govern its worship.  Only when the church follows the [model] of heavenly worship does water flow from the temple to the world.  If the church adopts the [model] of Damascus, then the nations are on their own, and no water will flow to renew the parched land.  Soon such a church will cease to have any purpose of being; ultimately, it will no longer be (248).