John Newton wrote a short but compelling letter to a fellow minister who was about to write a publication criticising a minister for his unorthodox beliefs. The letter is a masterly treatment on the theme of controversy and in just a few lines brings the gospel to bear on how to argue in so many ways. Reading it got me thinking about what it means to contend for the faith and how to argue well along with the hidden dangers of entering into controversy.
I’m preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday evenings and am reminded of Paul’s opening appeal to Timothy to fight the good fight but with a real warning not to be like those who have ‘an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels and words that result in envy, strife’
Paul charges Timothy (6:11) ‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’
So how do you contend for the truth of the gospel and fight the good fight with love and gentleness?
How do you argue with gospel motives and gospel motivations?
Here are some gems from John Newton’s letter as to how the gospel informs our interaction with others whether in church, in an e-mail, on a blog, etc..
A. Arguing with a fellow-believer
1. Argue with gentleness out of love
The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.
2. Argue remembering you WILL be reconciled if not now then in heaven
In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.
B. Arguing with an unbeliever
1. Argue with great compassion because of your great privilege over him
He is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.”
2. Argue remembering that apart from God’s grace you too would have held his views!
If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature.
C. Remembering the reading public
When we argue, publically, in a blog or through a publication we have a second, sometimes forgotten, audience. John Newton highlights three readers and offers his advice.
1. The reader who disagrees with you in principle
Newton urges you to remember them in the same way as your recipient above.
2. The reader who is naturally sympathetic to your point of view but who have little knowledge
These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper.
From us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.
3. The reader who shares your view
You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.
D. Watch out and pray for your own heart
Most striking of all in Newton’s letter is his concern for what controversy can do to us and the natural temptation to a self-righteous heart. It is sobering when Newton writes
We find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it….If the service is honorable, it is dangerous.
Pray for your own soul that you will not be corrupted by your own defence of the gospel!
E. Pursue God’s glory and your fellow mans good in how you write
If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.
Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of his Holy Spirit.
The old adage ‘aim at nothing and you’re sure to hit it’ has always been true in my experience and there is good reason to think that churches drift because of a lack of vision.
Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church makes a strong appeal for churches to have and hold on to clear biblical vision. Here are some edited highlights from chapter 4: The Foundation for a Healthy Church.
The need for a clear purpose
Nothing precedes purpose. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry. If you are helping a new church get started, your first task is to define your purpose. It’s far easier to set the right foundation at the start of a new church than it is to reset it after a church has existed for years.
However if you serve in an existing church that has plateaued, is declining, or is simply discouraged, your most important task is to redefine your purpose. Forget everything else until you have established it in the minds of your members. Recapture a clear vision of what God wants to do in and through your church family. Absolutely nothing will revitalize a discouraged church faster than rediscovering its purpose.
Unless the driving force behind a church is biblical, the health and growth of the church will never be what God intended. Strong churches are not built on programs, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God.
The benefits of a clear purpose
Warren suggests at least five.
1. A clear purpose builds morale
People working together for a great purpose don’t have time to argue over trivial issues. When you’re helping to row the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.
I believe it is also true that where there is no vision, people leave for another parish! Many churches are barely surviving because they have no vision.
2. A clear purpose reduces frustration
A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter.
A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do.
The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not to worry about all the rest.
How do we respond to all of those suggestions that come our way as leaders as to how to improve church?
The filter must always be: Does this activity fulfil one of the purposes for which God established the church?
When a church forgets its purpose, it has a difficult time deciding what’s important. It will vacillate between priorities, purposes and programs.
3. A clear purpose allows concentration
One of the common temptations I see many churches falling for today is the trap of majoring in the minors. They become distracted by good, but less important agendas, crusades, and purposes. The energy of the church is diffused and dissipated; the power is lost.
In my opinion, most churches try to do too much. This is one of the most overlooked barriers to building a healthy church: We wear people out.
The older a church gets, the truer this becomes. Programs and events continue to be added to the agenda without ever cutting anything out. Remember, no program is meant to last forever. A good question to keep in mind when dealing with programs in your church is, “Would we begin this today if we were not already doing it?”
Being efficient is not the same as being effective. Peter Drucker says, ‘Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’
God wants churches to be effective. Those few churches that are really effective concentrate on their purpose.
4. A clear purpose attracts cooperation
People want to join a church that knows where it’s going. When a church clearly communicates its destination, people are eager to get on board.
Tell people up front where your church is headed, and it will attract cooperation. Spell out your church’s purposes and priorities in a membership class. Clearly explain your strategy and structure. This will keep people from joining the membership with false assumptions.
5. A clear purpose assists evaluation
How does a church evaluate itself? Not by comparing itself to other churches, but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do?” and “How well are we doing it?”
The important issue is this: Your church will be stronger and healthier by being purpose driven.
How do you get there?
First, you must define your purposes. Next, you must communicate those purposes to everyone in your church – on a regular basis. Third, you must organize your church around your purposes. Finally, you must apply your purposes to every part of your church.
Tomorrow evening I preach 1 Timothy 3 including v.2 ‘the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.’
As Ryken notes in his commentary this phrase is not limited to a discussion on polygamy and how many wives you can have (!) but that ‘elders must be morally accountable for their sexuality‘
So it was useful to stumble across this from Mark Driscoll in the week leading up to my sermon.
Should women teach in the church?
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)
Let’s just get straight to the point. Some of you are pretty offended by these words. They sound outrageous to modern ears. For many they simply reveal the most shameful gender discrimination from someone who can only be described as a misogynist.
But as with any Bible verse it has a context and it certainly won’t help us if we take this verse out of context of the bigger story of the Bible.
We know that these verses, to be consistent with what we read elsewhere, cannot be declaring women to be second-class citizens or in any way less than men.
We know that God created men and women in his image. In Genesis chapter 1 we read;
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
So whatever Paul is saying in the controversial verses of 1 Timothy, Genesis 1 along with some of Paul’s own words eg 1 Cor. 11:11, Gal.3:28 demonstrate that there is something much more sophisticated than a slur on women or a desire to suppress women and relegate their role and place in the church and society.
Women are to learn
It’s remarkably easy for us to gloss over the fact that Paul says in v.11 that women are to learn at all. In many cultures, then and now, women are given little if any opportunity to learn.
Commentators point out that in orthodox Judaism of Paul’s day there was little or no place for women learning and some strands of Islam, by their refusal to offer education to girls alongside boys, demonstrate a same degradation of women even to this day.
Women are to learn but Paul does want them to lean but in quietness. The context is most likely that of a Christian meeting where the congregation is learning together. The word quietness in this context means ‘listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching..ie not speaking out of turn and thereby interrupting the lesson.’ It is the language of respect.
We don’t know exactly what was going on in Ephesus, the church context into which Paul is writing. Was it simply that the women were distracted, or had a divided attention, or maybe they didn’t have a particularly teachable spirit? We don’t know. But it suggests a situation in which the teaching of the word was up against distraction or interruption.
There is maybe something to be learned from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Martha is distracted from listening to Jesus whilst Mary demonstrates the very thing that is pleasing to him, adopting the position of a disciple by humbly listening to his word.
But what about the ‘s’ word!
Whatever else Paul may be saying some of us we can’t get beyond the ‘s’ word submission.
Women according to v.12 are not to teach or have authority over men.
To call upon women to submit seems exploitative and dangerous and contrary to good sense. Does it not rob women of their dignity and value?
Well, firstly, this is not a call for all women to submit to all men. This is rather a call for the women of this church to join the majority of the men in submitting to the leadership of the church.
But even then should women submit to anybody?
The Bible’s answer is that submission is a good thing for at least two reasons.
1) All Christians submit. And every Christian by virtue of their submission to God submits to others as an expression of their commitment to God. A Christian is by definition then someone who submits. We all submit to God, we submit to the ruling authorities, whilst we are children we submit to our parents, we are to submit to our boss at work, and so on.
For different people in different stages of life and in different situations we submit in different ways.
God’s ordering in the church and the family includes the principle of submission. The relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5 and the relationship between the women of the church and male leadership (see also 1 Cor. 14:33-34) is one in which God calls for an ordering of relationships.
2) Jesus submitted. Submission is a good thing only if you think you might want to be like Jesus. For as one commentator as put it ‘he knew the beauty of submission’.
God the Father and God the Son fully God are both fully God. They are fully equal in status and yet throughout the Bible we find the Son submitting to the Father and never the Father to the Son. So even in the God-head we find the principle of order amongst equals.
We shouldn’t therefore regard it as an insult to submit to our equal if we find Jesus willing to do the very same.
Prince William and Prince Harry
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul says that male leadership is rooted in creation ‘for Adam was formed first, then Eve.’ It is not that Adam is better than Eve but perhaps jsut as the Son comes from teh Father so the woman came from teh man and they are to live out at church and in the family that ordering of relationship.
We know that Prince William will one day be King and not Prince Harry. Is it because William is better? More intelligent? More deserving? No. Just that he came first. And so it is within the church.
So should women ever teach?
Again the broader context of the Bible clearly suggests that women can and will teach as they play a full role in church life.
In Titus 2:3-5 we find that they are to teach younger women and children.
We know from Acts 2:17-18 ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy’ and 1 Cor. 11:4-5 that women prayed in the gathered church and prophesied.
We know that women were deacons in the local church from Romans 16v1.
We also find in the book of Acts that Priscilla (a woman) and Aquilla (her husband) taught Apollos together, Acts 18:26.
There were many prominent women in Jesus’ own ministry. They were his disciples and we’re told that ‘these women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
In God’s plan the first to witness the resurrection and to meet the risen Lord Jesus were women.
Peter and the other apostles took their wives with them in ministry, 1 Cor. 9:5.
But there is no evidence at all for women in either the Old Testament or the New Testament holding a teaching office.
Jesus chose to appoint men and only men to the role of Apostles and nowhere do we find Paul or the other apostles appointing women to overall leadership in the local church.
Women are not to lead the church through the preaching of God’s word and nor are most of the men.
Paul isn’t saying that all men are to teach all women, nor that all women are to submit to all men.
No all women and the vast majority of men are to submit to the (male) eldership of the church.
The kind of teaching that Paul limits to a few men here is a teaching with authority
Philip Graham Ryken writes ‘Women and men may teach on a wide variety of biblical historical, and practical subjects.’
Women can write great blogs and books. They can write Bible commentaries and teach at Bible Colleges.
But where teaching is an expression of leadership ie where it is an indicator of authority it is there that God’s order within the church is to be recognised.
How does that work out at my own church
Women exercise a teaching role that stops short of a preaching with authority role.
So women regularly teach on a variety of issues eg parenting, marriage enrichment and so on.
They teach practical seminars, lead services, administer the Lord’s supper.
The Bible does not sit comfortably in any community in the world. At some point sooner or later the bible will critique the culture in which we live. In our western world the role of women is one of those clash of culture points. It is at times like this that we need to continue to humbly listen to scripture and be ready to face the challenge of the world as we witness to the God of the Bible.
May the very situations in which we submit for the sake of God to his word and his will point us all to the Christ who chose to submit even to death and death on a cross.
I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday evening. It was a humbling experience because it reminded me of how little time I, and the church I serve, give to prayer and in particular prayer for the world.
Philip Graham Ryken’s Reformed Expository Commentary on 1Timothy had some challenging things to say on Paul’s charge to pray for the nations and their leaders. Here is Ryken on prayer;
Pastoral prayers ought to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.
The God who rules the world wants his peopel to pray for the world. Therefore, every church should locate itself at the center of something God is doing in the whole world.
What is of special importance in Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the church should pray for world leaders who are NOT Christians.
The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly adminster the government which you have given them….Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and plasing in your sight, so that by dievoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.’
These world leaders, at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy were without exception non-Christians and often hostile to Christianity. Calvin notes of the leaders at the time of Paul’s writing that they were all ‘enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers and wicked men.’
So by praying for the nations and the leaders of the nations we fulfil Christ’s command of Matthew 5:44
‘I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’
And when we do pray in this way? We remember that ‘this is good and pleases God our Saviour. Who wants all men to be saved.’ v.3-4.
So why not recommit to prayer for the nations. Prayer in church services, in your small groups, with your family and in your own personal prayer life. Operation World is an obvious resource and now a new resouce called ‘The World Prayer Map’ provides an interactive map of the world with detailed prayer points.
That God should be pleased when we pray is reason enough to pray. That the nations need our prayers is further reason still.
The God who rules the world wants you to pray for the nations of the world.
When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.
But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?
In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’
How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities
Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.
Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.
For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.
What about the other fifty percent?
The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.
For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.
We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.
Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty
1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.
2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.
3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.
4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.
Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’
It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel‘
In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.
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