Monday, December 24, 2007

What is Christmas about?

This is the song "It's About the Cross" by the band Go Fish, which is set to images from The Passion, the Jesus Film, The Gospel of John, The Nativity Story, It's a Wonderful Life, and other films. I thought it captured pretty well the important Scriptural teaching that Jesus was born in order to die so that He could save His people from their sins:

NKJ Matthew 1:18-21 18 "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'"


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Monthly "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll Update

It is the fifth month running this poll, and there continues to be well over half of those responding (60%) who do not think strict adherence to the Baptist Confession of 1689 is necessary to being a Reformed Baptist. Here is the breakdown thus far (found at the bottom of the page):

20% thought that one only had to be a Baptist who held to Calvinistic soteriology.

33% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to Calvinism and Covenant Theology.

40% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to the 1689 Confession.

6% thought that one must hold to the 1689 Confession for the most part, but thought that this should not have to include adherence to the Sabbath requirement.

The sample from which this is taken is still pretty small at this point - with only 95 responses - but I remain hopeful that I may be able to get several hundred responses to the poll over the course of the poll's one year lifespan. There are 215 days left, so if you haven't responded yet, scroll down to the bottom of the page and weigh in.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Timely Warning From the Didache

I have been teaching through the book of Ephesians lately, and while studying about the apostles and prophets in 4:11, my research led me to some interesting comments in The Didache. Although there are some strange things to be found in this document, it does give us an intriguing glimpse as to the practices of many Christians in the late first to early second centuries. Hear what this ancient document has to say about apostles and prophets (11.3-6, 12):
(3) Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel. (4) Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. (5) But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. (6) And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night's lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.

(12) But if anyone should say in the spirit, "Give me money," or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him.

We don't have to wonder what these ancient followers of Christ would have to say about so many of today's televangelists, who constantly ask for money while trying to make it sound like the godly thing to do!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Response to the House-Church Movement: Part Five

What is the meaning of Ekklēsía?

In a previous post (Part Four of this series) I indicated that one possible reason for the de-emphasis on elder leadership and authority among some House-Church Movement (HCM) advocates is a misunderstanding of the Greek word ekklēsía, which is commonly translated as church in the New Testament. Now I would like to address that issue more fully by examining one line of argument made by Steve Atkerson regarding church government, in which we will see that he places a fair amount of weight on his understanding of this important term. In fact, Atkerson begins his treatment of Consensus Governing with a discussion of the meaning of ekklēsía. Here are the relevant portions of the article:
Why do you suppose that Jesus choose the word church to describe His followers? “Church” is the English translation of the original Greek term ekklesia. Outside the context of the New Testament, ekklesia was a secular word that carried strong political connotations. There were other Greek words Jesus could have used to describe His followers and their gatherings, words that carried religious and nonpolitical connotations. As we will see, one of the reasons He chose the word ekklesia to describe His followers is because He wanted them to make corporate decisions that affected all of them as a group. How did Jesus intend for the church to be governed? Let’s begin by looking more closely at how the true meaning of the modern word church has been all but lost....

During the time of Jesus, the word ekklesia was used almost without exception to refer to a political assembly that was regularly convened for the purpose of making decisions. According to Thayer’s lexicon it was “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberation.” Bauer’s lexicon defines ekklesia as an “assembly of a regularly summoned political body.” In Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ekklesia is said to have been “clearly characterized as a political phenomenon, repeated according to certain rules and within a certain framework. It was the assembly of full citizens, functionally rooted in the constitution of the democracy, an assembly in which fundamental political and judicial decisions were taken . . . the word ekklesia, throughout the Greek and Hellenistic areas, always retained its reference to the assembly of the polis.” In the secular ekklesia, every male citizen had “the right to speak and to propose matters for discussion” (women were not allowed to speak at all in the secular Greek ekklesia).

This secular usage can be illustrated from within the Bible as well, in Acts 19:23-41. These Acts 19 occurrences of ekklesia (translated “assembly,” “legal assembly,” and “assembly” in 19:32, 39, 41) referred to a meeting of craftsmen who had been called together by Demetrius into the town theater to decide what to do about Paul, though there was so much confusion the majority did not know why they had been summoned. This is an example of ekklesia used to refer to a regularly summoned political body (in this case, silver craftsmen and those in related trades). They convened (as a sort of trade union) to decide what to do about a damaged reputation and lost business. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Even though I will essentially agree with his position about the importance of consensus in governing the local church, I strongly object to Atkerson's argument based upon the supposed meaning of ekklēsía in this respect. The problem that I have with this argument is that Atkerson restricts his understanding of the word to the secular use it had in the first century, while ignoring the Septuagint (LXX) background of the word, which is clearly the proper place to look for an understanding of Jesus' and the Apostles' use of the term. In fact, Atkerson asserts no less than four times that ekklēsía was a secular word and argues that this secular meaning was intended by Jesus when applied to the Church. He cites this meaning from two lexical works and one theological dictionary, and then he lists a single New Testament passage where this meaning is certain. But, just as he has done in his discussion of the meaning of dialégomai when arguing for interactive meanings (recall my response to his treatment of that term in a previous article), so here Atkerson has once again been selective and misleading in his use of lexical evidence. He operates under the faulty assumption that the word had no significant religious connotations in the first century and that, if Jesus wanted to use a word that carried religious rather than secular or political connotations, He would have chosen another word. But Atkerson couldn't be more wrong here, as even a casual reading of the very lexical sources that he cites will show.

To be sure, the word ekklēsía did have a secular and political meaning in the first century, but all of the the primary lexical sources available also acknowledge a religious usage of the word and see this as the proper background of its usage in the New Testament. I will demonstrate the validity of this assertion by first examining the sources cited by Atkerson himself and then by citing several other recognized lexical authorities. I will quote in each case a significant portion of the cited works so that the proper context will be apparent. The reader will quickly see that Atkerson has simply avoided anything in these sources that happens to disagree with the meaning he wants ekklēsía to have in order to suit his argument.

First, I take Atkerson's mention of “Thayer's lexicon” as a reference to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Joseph Thayer. Here is what that lexicon actually says:
1. among the Greeks from Thucydides (cf. Herodotus 3, 142) down, an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating: Acts 19:39. 2. in the Septuagint often equivalent to [qāhāl], the assembly of the Israelites, Judg. 21:8, 1 Chr. 29:1, etc., especially when gathered for sacred purposes, Deut. 31:30 (Deut. 32:1); Josh. 8:35 (Josh. 9:8), etc.; in the N. T. thus in Acts 7:38; Heb 2:12. 3. any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance or tumultuously: Acts 19:32, 41. 4. in the Christian sense, a. an assembly of Christians gathered for worship... b. a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal Salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake.... [Note: Both Matt. 16:18 and 18:17 are listed under this last heading.](BibleWorks #1664).
Notice that, although it doesn't make explicit the commonly assumed LXX background for ekklēsía, the Thayer lexicon does list the LXX usage (#2) as distinct from the secular usage (#1) and then goes on to list the word as having a Christian sense (#4) that is also distinguished from that of the common secular usage. And the primary meaning given there is not “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberation,” as Atkerson suggests, but rather “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship” (#4.a). It then goes on to give an additional meaning as “those who, hoping for eternal Salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake” (#4.b) And, as I have indicated above, both uses by Jesus are included under this last heading and not as belonging to the secular meaning. How could Atkerson have missed this when he argued based on Thayer's work that Jesus intended the secular meaning?

Now, I suppose that Atkerson may want to see connotations of the secular meaning in Thayer's mention of the ekklēsía's management of its affairs, but given that this meaning is listed as distinct from the secular meaning, it would make sense to look somewhere other than the secular background to determine the nature of such management. So, instead of trying to read the secular connotations into the word in order to help support a preconceived idea, one should just read the New Testament texts that address the matter of church government in order to assess its meaning, allowing Jesus and the Apostles to shape the meaning as they intended. At any rate, if the Thayer lexicon agreed with Atkerson, wouldn't it have addressed the meaning of the word under its secular usage (#1) as, perhaps, a subcategory? I conclude that it doesn't agree with Atkerson, and that he should have known this given even a cursory reading of the lexical definition.

Second, I take Atkerson's mention of “Bauer's lexicon” as a reference to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker (BAGD3). Here is what this lexicon actually says:
... 1. a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, as gener. understood in the Gr-Rom. World... 2. a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering... 3. people with shared belief, community, congregation... in our lit. of common interest in the God of Israel... a. of OT Israelites assembly, congregation [Dt 31:30; Judg 20:2; 1SA.17:47; 1KI.8:14]; e.g. to hear the law (Dt 4:10; 9:10; 18:16) Ac 7:38... b. of Christians in a specific place or area (the term ev. apparently became popular among Christians in Greek-speaking areas for chiefly two reasons: to affirm continuity with Israel through use of a term found in Gk. translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to allay any suspicion, esp. in political circles, that Christians were a disorderly group). (BibleWorks #2369)
Notice that the first meaning, cited by Atkerson, is only one meaning that the word may have, but that it lists as a separate meaning the LXX usage of the word – a religious usage – with reference to the assembly of the people of Israel. And it lists the New Testament under the same category as that of the LXX, not as belonging with the secular usage. But you wouldn't know this if all you read was Atkerson's article. And you wouldn't know that the lexicon gives a reason for not seeing ekklēsía as being properly understood in accordance with the secular meaning. The entry plainly states that the term “apparently became popular among Christians in Greek-speaking areas for chiefly two reasons: to affirm continuity with Israel through use of a term found in Gk. translations of the Hebrew Scriptures [the LXX], and to allay any suspicion, esp[ecially] in political circles, that Christians were a disorderly group.” So, there is no doubt that the religious usage of the LXX is seen as the primary background for the meaning of the term, while at the same time it is acknowledged that it would have indicated an orderly assembly to those more familiar with its secular meaning. However, that the term had this added advantage doesn't entail that secular ideas predominated in the usage by the Church. The lexicon clearly dispels that notion. So, I assert once again that Atkerson is wrong about the meaning of ekklēsía as indicated in this lexicon and that he should have known this given even a cursory reading of the definition it gives. Atkerson just continues his practice of being selective and misleading in his use of such sources.

Third, although Colin Brown's New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) does discuss the secular meaning as Atkerson indicates, it also has this to say:
Where ekklesia is used in the LXX for qahal, it indicates the assembly of the people or a judicial assembly (e.g. Deut. 9:10; 23:3 ff. ; Jdg. 21:5, 8 ; Mic. 2:5 ), the political body (e.g., the returned exiles Ezr. 10:8 , 12 ; Neh. 8:2, 17 ). It also indicates, especially in the Chronicler, the assembly of the people for worship (e.g. 2 Chr. 6:3 at the consecration of the temple; 30:2, 4, 13, 17 at Hezekiah’s Passover; cf. also Joel 2:16 and several times in the Pss. , e.g. 21:22 (22:22); 88:6 (89:6). Nevertheless, even in these instances (even though, unlike Deut. 23:2 , 3, 4, 9, Mic. 2:5, and Jdg. 20:2, the gen. kyriou, of the Lord, or tou theou, of God, is not added) ekklesia is only used where it is a question of the people as God’s assembly, characterized by having answered Yahweh’s call. Admittedly the word is used especially where the historic greatness of Israel is implied, and avoided where it could perhaps suggest to the Gk. reader merely a political claim on the part of the contemporary Jewish community (in the sense of the Gk. ekklesia, see above, CL). Perhaps that is why, in the legal passages regulating the life of the community, qahal is translated by synagoge (cf. L. Rost, op. cit., 127 ff.). (p.295-296)
Now, this passage does indicate that ekklēsía could sometimes be used to translate the Hebrew qāhāl in instances where it refers to a judicial or political assembly, but such an assembly among the ancient Jews would have been quite different from that of first century Greeks! Why, then, does Atkerson look to the first century Greek secular usage to support his view? The answer appears to be that this is really the only usage that could support his view. Such a usage just happens to differ with the very source he cites.

In addition, the dictionary also goes on to stress the fact that the term ekklēsía was used in the LXX in such away as to avoid the kind of political (i.e. secular) meaning that the Greek reader might mistakenly attribute to the assembly of God's people. Thus, according to NIDNTT, the LXX translators tried to reserve the term for a more religious use and chose to use sunagōgē for more overtly political passages. Clearly, then, the LXX usage was intended not to highlight the very secular notions that Atkerson believes to be necessarily associated with ekklēsía. He has committed the very mistake that the LXX translators tried to avoid people making. But there is more:
It seems indisputable that, if ekklesia here [in Matt. 16:18] represents an idea of late Judaism, it has taken over the content of qahal, and is probably to be understood as the eschatological assembly of the true people of God. On the analogy of the claim of remnant groups representing the whole (cf. OT, 4) the word then stood for an eschatologically determined special synagogue, in which the true Israel was present. The statement that “the powers of death (Gk.: the gates of Hades) shall not prevail against it” has its foundation in the fact that this community is linked to the risen Christ as victor over death. This again indicates the period of the primitive church. (p.302-303)
Notice that NIDNTT believes that, if Jesus' usage of ekklēsía is congruent with the Jewish usage at the time (which the dictionary appears to grant), then it is indisputable that it is to be understood in light of its LXX usage as a translation for the Hebrew qāhāl (referring to the congregation/assembly of Israel). But this means that it sees the proper background of the term as being found in the religious usage of the LXX and not in the secular usage of first century Greek culture. This is opposed to Atkerson's view. But, again, you wouldn't know any of this if you only read what he has to say about the matter.

So, after examining the three lexical sources cited by Atkerson in defense of his contention that Jesus intended ekklēsía to be understood as a secular term, it should be obvious to the impartial reader that even a casual reading of these very lexical sources demonstrates that he is wrong and that, in fact, these sources disagree with him.

Now, in order to show that these works are typical of lexicons and theological dictionaries in differing with Atkerson, here are three more reputable lexical works that define ekklēsía in a way that disagrees with him:
... In general Greek usage it was normally a socio-political entity based upon citizenship in a city-state.... For the NT, however, it is important to understand the meaning of [ekklēsía] as 'an assembly of God's people.' (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, by J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, BibleWorks #2029)
... 1) in a general sense, as a gathering of citizens assembly, meeting (AC 19.32); (2) as the assembled people of Israel congregation (HE 2.12); (3) as the assembled Christian community church, congregation, meeting (RO 16.5); (4) as the totality of Christians living in one place church (AC 8.1); (5) as the universal body of believers church (EP 1.22). (Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, by Timothy and Barbara Friberg, BibleWorks #8531)

... [ekklēsía] was a common term for a congregation of the ekklētoí (n.f.), the called people, or those called out or assembled in the public affairs of a free state, the body of free citizens called together by a herald (kerux [G2783]) which constituted the ekklēsía. In the NT, the word is applied to the congregation of the people of Israel (Act 7:38). On the other hand, of the two terms used in the OT, sunagōgē (G4864) seems to have been used to designate the people from Israel in distinction from all other nations (Act 13:43 [cf. Mat 4:23; Mat 6:2; Jam 2:2; Rev 2:9; Rev 3:9]). In Heb 1:25, however, when the gathering of Christians is referred to, it is called not sunagōgē, but episunagōgē (G1997), with the prep. epí (G1909), upon, translated "the assembling . . . together." The Christian community was designated for the first time as the ekklēsía to differentiate it from the Jewish community, sunagōgē (Act 2:47 [TR]). The term ekklēsía denotes the NT community of the redeemed in its twofold aspect. First, all who were called by and to Christ in the fellowship of His salvation, the church worldwide of all times, and only secondarily to an individual church.... In the OT, two different words are used to denote gatherings of the chosen people or their representatives: edah (H5712) meaning congregation and qahal (H6951), assembly. In the Sept., sunagōgē (G4864) is the usual translation of edah while qahal is commonly rendered ekklēsía. Both qahal and ekklēsía by their derivation indicate calling or summoning to a place of meeting, but there is no foundation for the widespread notion that ekklēsía means a people or a number of individual men called out of the world or mankind. Qahal or ekklēsía is the more sacred term denoting the people in relation to Jehovah, especially in public worship. Perhaps for this very reason, the less sacred term sunagōgē was more commonly used by the Jews in our Lord's time, and probably influenced the first believers in adopting ekklēsía for Christian use. Sunagōgē, though used in the early church as a syn. for ekklēsía (Jam 2:2), quickly went out of use for a Christian assembly, except in sects which were more Jewish than Christian. Owing to the growing hostility of the Jews, it came to indicate opposition to the church (Rev 2:9; Rev 3:9). Ekklēsía, therefore, at once suggests the new people of God, the new Israel. (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, e-Sword #G1577)
Note again that in each instance there is a separate listing or discussion of the word as it applies to the Church. None of these lexicons treat the usage of ekklēsía with reference to the Church as rightly belonging to a treatment of its secular meaning. The reason for this can be found especially in BAGD3 and Zodhiates as cited above. It is because the proper background for understanding the usage of ekklēsía as applied to the Church is not to be found in the secular usage of the first century but in the religious usage of the Septuagint (LXX). This Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures had been in common use among the Jews for generations by the first century and was the common Bible for the Apostles and early Christians as well. It provides the proper background for understanding much of the language in the New Testament as the above cited sources consistently – and correctly – assume.

But what does all this mean with respect to Atkerson's argument about the nature and government of the New Testament churches? Well, it certainly means that he cannot use the first century Greek notions of a secular and political entity as the analogy he draws upon for so much of his understanding of the nature of governing in the New Testament churches. Rather it means that, if he wants to understand the correct form of governing in the churches, he should allow the various New Testament passages that actually have some bearing on the subject to speak for themselves, instead of trying to force a secular meaning into the text. This is a major flaw in his presentation and should give anyone pause when reading much else he has to say about the subject.

I find it inconceivable that Atkerson could have written that “during the time of Jesus, the word ekklesia was used almost without exception to refer to a political assembly that was regularly convened for the purpose of making decisions.” That may have been true of pagan Greek culture at the time, but it definitely wasn't true of Jesus and the Apostles when referring to God's people.

I also cannot imagine how Atkerson could say that “there were other Greek words Jesus could have used to describe His followers and their gatherings, words that carried religious and nonpolitical connotations.” Really? Then what are these words? What other words could Jesus have used if He intended to highlight the continuity of His people with that of the Old Testament assembly while at the same time distinguishing them as His own assembly? What other Greek word was there that was so connected in meaning with the Old Testament people of God and with the Hebrew qāhāl? If Atkerson is going to make such a claim, shouldn't he make some attempt to support it?

I will conclude by saying that, as I see it, it is inexcusable that Atkerson simply ignores all of the evidence contrary to his view, even from the very lexical sources that he cites. After all, it is one thing for him to be mistaken on some point due to misunderstanding, or to have a stated disagreement with current lexicographical consensus, but it is another thing altogether for him to cite sources so as to give the impression that they agree with his view of Jesus' usage of ekklēsía when, in fact, these sources all disagree with him. Atkerson has led his readers astray here, and he should have known better.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

SBC Increase in Calvinist Pastors

In a November 27 article entitled, Study: Recent grads 3 times more likely to be Calvinists, Baptist Press reported a rise in Calvinist pastors among recent seminary graduates now serving in as pastors in SBC churches. The report asserted:

Nearly 30 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates now serving as church pastors identify themselves as Calvinists, according to data presented during the opening session of a conference on Reformed theology and the Southern Baptist Convention.

By contrast in the SBC at large, the number of pastors who affirm the five points of Calvinism is around 10 percent, Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, said in reporting various findings by LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board Center for Missional Research.

Such a rise bodes well for the Southern Baptist Convention, and one can only hope that this increase is also happening in other Baptist groups. And, of course, one hopes that the trend continues within the Evangelical community at large.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Reformed Renewal Among Baptists

Clint Humfrey is a former professor of New Testament Greek at Toronto Baptist Seminary and currently serves as pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta. He has written an interesting November 12 article entitled The Reformed Renewal on his Cowboyology Blog. I thought this blog's readers might find it interesting as well. Here is the article in its entirety:

The Reformed Renewal
Yesterday in Sunday School I offered a brief history of Calvinistic Baptists, including the main North American streams in existence today. I summarized the streams as follows:

1. The Neo-Evangelical Stream
Leading Example:
John Piper

Characteristics: Calvinistic convictions arrived at from within the broad mainstream Neo-evangelical ethos.

2. The Dispensational Stream
Leading Example:
John Macarthur

Characteristics: Calvinistic conclusions arrived at out of the generally '3-4 point Calvinist' circles of 'Dallas' dispensationalism.

3. The Fundamentalist Stream
Leading Example:
Spiritual heirs of TT Shields
Characteristics: Distinguished from other Fundamentalists by Calvinism and at times non- Premillenial eschatology. Yet still Fundamental in ethos and association (cf. Paisley in N. Ireland, Bob Jones University, etc.)

4. The Reformed Baptist Stream
Leading Example:
Al Martin, Tom Ascol
Characteristics: Often connected with Presbyterians, possessing the same view of the Law's implication for Christian living, particularly in the form of Sabbatarianism, and 10 commandments as normative for Christians.

5.The New Covenant Reformed Baptist Stream
Leading Example:
John Reisinger

Characteristics: Derived from the Reformed Baptist stream, but broke away from those circles over disagreement about Sabbatarianism and the relation of the Law to the Christian. Tended to emphasize a more Christocentric view of the Law (i.e. Law is fulfilled in Christ entirely, therefore the idea of Sunday as equivalent to a Jewish Sabbath is incorrect). Can draw from Progressive Dispensational circles as well as other eschatological perspectives.
There is often overlap between these different streams, and many Calvinistic Baptists would not be associated with any of them in a formal way. However the influence of the various teachers in these streams has had a significant impact within the broader Reformed Renewal of the 20th and early 21st century. To the reader I ask, 'In what stream do you find yourself?'

So, what do you all think? Do you think these are helpful or accurate categories? Do they reflect your own experience of the Reformed Baptist community?

P.S. Thanks to Nathan White on the Reformed Baptist Discussion List for bringing this article to my attention.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are You Feeling Weighed Down?

This picture reminded me of how we can all sometimes feel. We can all feel as though we are weighed down with a heavy burden, and, try as we might, we just can't seem to get anywhere. I have found at times like these I am generally feeling this way because I have begun to operate in the flesh, depending too much on my own strength rather than upon Christ.

At such times I need to cry out to God in prayer, humbly recognizing that He alone is the source of all my strength and of anything good in me. And I try to remember a few key Scriptures that invariably see me through. I hope some of these scriptures will help to any of you who are feeling burdened and overwhelmed today!

NKJ Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

NKJ Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

NKJ 1 Peter 5:6-7 6 "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."

What keeps us from coming to Christ with our burdens, so that we may carry them through His strength? Well, Peter assumes it can be nothing more - and nothing less - than pride. He assumes that truly casting our cares upon Him requires that we humble ourselves under His mighty hand. Could it be that we are more like a mule - although not the poor creature in the picture - than we want to admit sometimes? Too stubborn to really rely on God in everything?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

On October 3, 1789, in his first year in office, George Washington signed the first proclamation of thanksgiving by a U.S. President. If you click on the image at the left, you can read the original text as it was published in the The Massachusetts Centinel on Wednesday, October 14, 1789.

In case this old newspaper abstract is difficult to read, here is the text of that decree:
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:" NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanksfor His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 Back Online With Finalweb

Many of you have wondered where my website went over the past few weeks. Well, I was in the process of transferring to a new host provider and building an entirely new site - which is still in process - but I am happy to announce that the domain transfer finally went through and I am back up and running.

I chose to go with Finalweb as my new provider, and their website building software, well developed church & ministry package, and fabulous support have made the change as pleasant as could be. In fact, I don't think I have found better support anywhere. They even offered free support while I was taking it for a test drive with their free 14 day trial. For example, during the trial time I found that there was a problem with downloading topic notes files for e-Sword that I had uploaded to the server. Their software apparently didn't like the '.top' extension. Well, I called the technical support team and they had the problem fixed before the trial time was even concluded! I think it was just a few days later that I tried it, and it worked.

On that note, for all you e-Sword users that liked to download the many Reformed resources I previously made available on my website, I assure you they will all be back soon. I am in the process of uploading them all (and more) as soon as possible.

Anyway, I cannot recommend Finalweb highly enough. And, for any other Shepherds' Fellowship members, you can receive a significant discount.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Monthly "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll Update

It is the fourth month running this poll, and there continues to be well over half of those responding (61%) who do not think strict adherence to the Baptist Confession of 1689 is necessary to being a Reformed Baptist. Here is the breakdown thus far (found at the bottom of the page):

19% thought that one only had to be a Baptist who held to Calvinistic soteriology.

34% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to Calvinism and Covenant Theology.

39% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to the 1689 Confession.

6% thought that one must hold to the 1689 Confession for the most part, but thought that this should not have to include adherence to the Sabbath requirement.

The sample from which this is taken is still pretty small at this point, but I remain hopeful that I may be able to get several hundred responses to the poll over the course of the poll's one year lifespan. There are 245 days left, so if you haven't responded yet, scroll down to the bottom of the page and weigh in.

P.S. Some of you may have noticed that the percentages Blogger lists don't always add up to 100. This appears to be due to Blogger's rounding the numbers up or down. But the tallies still give us a pretty good idea where things are. At the end of the year, I will figure the percentages more accurately.

Friday, November 09, 2007

National Do Not Call List Registration Renewal

Recently I received a notice from my Republican Congressman, Tim Johnson, reminding me that it is time to again sign up with the National Do Not Call Registry. Here is the message I received from Congressman Johnson:

An Important Message form Congressman Johnson..

Remember those annoying telemarketing calls? It never failed. Just as we were sitting down to dinner or beginning an important discussion, the phone would ring. Congress took action by passing legislation to eliminate those unwanted telemarketing calls by establishing the National Do Not Call Registry. Telephone numbers voluntarily registered are off limits to unwanted telemarketing calls for 5 years. For many numbers, the five year period is expiring shortly. I am co-sponsoring legislation House Resolution 3541 to automatically extend the no call
period for five more years. However, the legislation is facing stiff resistance from special interest groups. That is why, I am asking you to take a few moments and follow these simple steps to renew your registration.

To Register with the National Do Not Call List

Simply follow these steps:

From you computer

1) access
2) move the cursor to Register Now and click
3) type in your number and area code
4) type in your email address and confirm
5) click on Submit
6) verify your information, then click on Register
7) when you receive your email response from the registry, simply open and click on link

From you telephone

1) call the toll free number 1-888-382-1222
2) select desired language
3) press #1
4) enter phone number (you must call from the number you are registering)
5) press #1

I was registered the first time around and was so pleased not to be getting all those sales calls. I jumped at the chance to register again, and I would encourage the blog's readers to do so as well... unless you like to be interrupted by telemarketing calls all the time! Just thought you all might want to get in on a good thing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Six Televangelists Subjects of Senate Probe

CBS News has reported today that Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee, has asked for financial statements and records from six high-profile televangelists in order to investigate them for possible illegalities. Here is a section from the CBS report entitled "Senate Panel Probes 6 Top Televangelists":

CBS News has learned Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating six prominent televangelist ministries for possible financial misconduct.
Letters were sent Monday to the ministries demanding that financial statements and records be turned over to the committee by December 6th.
According to Grassley's office, the Iowa Republican is trying to determine whether or not these ministries are improperly using their tax-exempt status as churches to shield lavish lifestyles.
The six ministries identified as being under investigation by the committee are led by: Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn. Three of the six - Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar - also sit on the Board of Regents for the Oral Roberts University.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Band of Bloggers

As announced at the Said at Southern blog, "the 2008 Band of Bloggers fellowship will take place during lunch (11:30-1:30) on Tuesday, April 14, 2008 at the Galt House in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Guest speakers and panelists for the event include Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mark Lauterbach .... The theme for next year’s conference, 'The Gospel Trust,' will focus on what it means to be servants of God and stewards entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ."
You may find out more about the Band of Bloggers at their website. Here is a description from their About page:


For the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Band of Bloggers was started with a vision and collaborative effort to unite bloggers who have a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It carries with it a desire that the gospel be normative in our lives, central in our writing, and powerful in our witness to the world. The first Band of Bloggers fellowship developed when several bloggers who were attending the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference discussed the possibility of holding a meeting to encourage one another to live and write with a gospel-centered emphasis. Within a matter of weeks, the idea had blossomed to an event with a panel of speakers–Justin Taylor, Tim Challies, Dr. Albert Mohler, and Dr. Russell Moore–and a gathering of more than 70 bloggers hosted by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The meeting served to compliment the thrust of the conference, viz. to come together for the sake of the gospel in this generation.

The second Band of Bloggers fellowship is slated to take place in 2008, again in concert with the Together for the Gospel Conference. This year’s theme, “The Gospel Trust,” focuses on what it means to be entrusted as servants of God and stewards of His glorious gospel. During the period of time leading up to the 2008 Band of Bloggers fellowship, we will endeavor to fuel a greater passion for the gospel of the glory of Christ through resources, articles, and media (including podcasts).

As we seek to facilitate discussion and foster gospel-driven lives and blogs, we encourage you to join in and share this vision with others. For comments, questions, or to contact us, please email to
Lord willing, I will be in attendance this year. Perhaps I will meet some of you there?
As someone who is new to the blogging experience, I hope to gain much from my more experienced fellow-bloggers about how to more faithfully serve Christ and the Gospel through my blogging efforts.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ligonier Ministries Reformation Day Sale

Ligonier Ministries is offering a great study Bible for an unbelievable price on their one day only Reformation Day Sale on October 31.

I began using the New Geneva Study Bible back when it first came out in about 1995. The name was changed a few years later to the Reformation Study Bible. It was originally offered with the New King James Version translation, but they later changed to the English Standard Version when it became available.

In either version it is a great study Bible. Of course, Reformed Baptists will have to excuse a few points of disagreement, in particular the advocacy of paedobaptism, but the shared agreement on the most important doctrines and interpretations of important passages is well worth the purchase ... especially at this price! Here is a brief description from the Ligonier Ministries website:

Widely considered one of the best tools available for Bible study and previously only available in the New King James translation, The Reformation Study Bible has been updated to the readable and accurate English Standard Version (ESV). This foundational resource was created by more than fifty scholars and features thousands of in-depth study notes, 96 theological articles, 19 in-text maps, and 12 charts to help you understand the Bible better.

The Bible measures 9 ¼ in. x 6 ¾ in. The type of the ESV text is 10.25 points and the study notes are approximately 8 points. This is the study Bible for the next generation of reformers.

P.S. Sorry for posting this so late. But at least you still have two days notice.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Willow Creek Repents?"

This is the question posed in the title of an October 18 article at the Out of Ur blog at the Christianity Today website. The subtitle reads, "Why the most influential church in America now says 'We made a mistake.'"

Here are a couple of quotes from Bill Hybels that are contained in the article:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
Imagine that. Actually teaching people how to read the Bible for themselves. How could this possibly seem like a novel idea for any church?

Well, at least they are beginning to see through their experience what they should have seen from the Scriptures all along. Not to mention the many, many Christians who have been trying to tell them this for decades now. The author of the article sums it up nicely when he says:
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The James Ossuary

The much debated James Ossuary, with an inscription reading ""James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," has still not been conclusively ruled a fake. Although no one doubts that it dates to the time of James and Jesus, there has been some question whether or not the inscription was a forgery. However, after having been ruled a fake early on by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), many experts afterward questioned this finding and believed it to be authentic.

A couple of articles at the Biblical Archaeology Society website question the earlier findings.

For example, in an article excerpted from Theology Today 52:4, entitled "The James Ossuary and Its Implications," J.A. Fitzmeyer reminds the reader that...

(a) The ossuary had been examined by scientists of the Geological Survey of Israel and also by expert curators at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; neither of these teams concluded that the ossuary or its inscription was fake. In fact, the scientists of GSI went out of their way to stress that “the patina does not contain any modern elements (such as modern pigments) and it adheres firmly to the surface. No signs of the use of a modern tool or instrument was [sic] found.” (b) The reaction of the IAA is simply the same as the attitude of most archaeologists about artifacts obtained from antiquities-dealers, as already mentioned. Only now, it has become a matter of politicized archaeology, advocated by the highest authority on antiquities in the State of Israel.

In addition, Edward J. Keall, in an article entitled "New Tests Bolster Case for Authenticity," concludes that...

The studies we [at the Royal Ontario Museum] conducted have convinced us that the ossuary and its inscription are genuinely ancient and not a modern forgery. This conclusion, of course, is consistent with the findings of leading Semitic paleographers and Aramaic linguists, as well as the Geological Survey of Israel, and contradicts those who assert that the inscription must be a forgery simply because it is "too good to be true" or because it surfaced on the antiquities market rather than having been found in a professional archaeological excavation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monthly "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll Update

After about three months running this poll, still well over half of those responding (58%) do not think strict adherence to the Baptist Confession of 1689 is necessary to being a Reformed Baptist. Here is the breakdown thus far (found at the bottom of the page):

17% thought that one only had to be a Baptist who held to Calvinistic soteriology.

32% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to Calvinism and Covenant Theology.

42% thought that one must be a Baptist who holds to the 1689 Confession.

7% thought that one must hold to the 1689 Confession for the most part, but thought that this should not have to include adherence to the Sabbath requirement.

The sample from which this is taken is still pretty small at this point, but I remain hopeful that there will be many other respondents to the poll over the coming year. There are 276 days left, so if you haven't responded yet, scroll down to the bottom of the page and weigh in.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We Need the Gospel Every Day

Those at Immanuel Baptist Church could tell you that I have been preaching consistently for many years that we need the Gospel every day. In fact, some of them may even be tired of hearing me say it.

The Gospel is not something that we outgrow our need for as we move on to the "deeper" issues of the faith. In fact, I would say that growth in the Christian faith means spending the rest of our lives understanding just what the Gospel really means for us. Besides, we certainly need to remember our need for God's grace through Jesus Christ every single day! And this means that we need the Gospel every day.

Anyway, I was very encouraged to find this video of John Piper at GodTube called "6 Minute Gospel," in which he says essentially the same thing... only better than I could say it! I just wish even more pastors would get ahold of this basic idea because, if our people really do need the Gospel every day, then we need to make sure we keep telling them that.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A God-o-Meter?

I discovered on Derick Dickens blog today that Beliefnet has partnered with Time Magazine to bring us the God-o-Meter. I think Derick sums it up nicely, when he says:

I do not know if I am disgusted or just curious. Yet, in th election race, has a "God-o-Meter" to rank the Presidential Candidates on their religous [sic] talk. I am not necessary [sic] endorsing the meter and believe it to only be using "God talk" as a litmus and not true solid theology in those talks. Therefore, someone like Obama could talk a lot about God but the theology is purely Post-Modern and he gets the same ranking than [sic] Mike Huckabee who has better theology.
Derick has hit the nail right on the head here. There are some accompanying articles that help to clarify the specific views of a few of the candidates, but the only way one can get a true sense of where each one comes down on crucial issues (such as abortion and gay marriage) is to visit each person's site and wade through all the double-speak (with a few exceptions).
It looks to me as though the God-o-Meter may actually be an attempt to blur the distinctions between men such as Huckabee and Obama in order to dupe less knowledgeable or less discerning Evangelicals into thinking that they are relatively equal choices. One wonders if a political liberal didn't come up with this thing just for this purpose.
Do I sound too cynical? Well, remember that Time magazine isn't exactly a bastion of conservatism. Anyway, thanks Derick for pointing it out.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Response to the House-Church Movement: Part Four

What kind of authority – if any – do elders have in the churches?

When I first encountered the particular branch of the House-Church Movement (HCM) to which I have been responding in this series of posts, the issue of the authority of elders occupied much of the discussion. The HCM advocates I met seemed to be questioning whether elders were intended to have any real authority at all. They seemed to view them merely as enablers rather than genuine leaders. Seeing that I was puzzled by their views and desirous of a clearer understanding, they graciously referred me to (website of the Chigwell Christian Fellowship) and (website of the New Testament Reformation Foundation) for more information.

The website of the New Testament Reformation Foundation had the most detailed information dealing with the role of elders in the church, and I found much there with which I agreed. For example, they correctly hold to the concepts of plurality and parity of elders and also rightly understand that the terms elder, overseer, and pastor are used interchangeably in Scripture to refer to the same office. They also rightly understand that this office is to be held only by men. I was very pleased to find such a Biblical approach, but my enthusiasm soon began to wane as I discovered what I believe to be the source of the weak view of elder authority I had been encountering in my discussions with HCM advocates. I found at best a real lack of clarity on the issue and at worst a complete denial of elder authority – from Steve Atkerson to some extent in the former instance and from Hal Miller in the latter.

Where I began to encounter some difficulty was when I tried to understand more clearly what their doctrinal statements concerning elders as those who lead and govern really mean. For example, their webpage entitled “Our Beliefs” declares the First London Baptist Confession of 1644 to be their “favorite statement of faith.” This confession states regarding elders:
BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other.
Without getting into much detail at this point, I observe that this statement says that elders are appointed by Christ for “governing... His Church.” This would seem to imply a ruling function with some degree of authority. However, I was then confronted with this statement on the “Our Beliefs” page itself:
Consensus decisions made by all the brothers, following Christ as Head of His church. Thus, elder-led more so than elder-ruled churches. Though elders are very important to the functioning of the church, decisions are generally to be made by the church corporately, not by its elders only (Mt 18:15-20, Lk 22:24-27, 1Pe 51-4).
Although I agree that the best way to lead a church in accordance with Scripture is through the building of consensus among the members, I confess that I have a hard time grasping the difference between “elder-led” and “elder-ruled” in this context. For example, I struggle to understand what it means that elders are those appointed by Christ to govern in the churches, but that they are not really supposed to rule. What, exactly, is the difference between governing and ruling? I think the distinction is being made in order to stress the importance of elders leading with humility and by example rather than in a domineering way. And if this is all that is intended by it, then I agree that elders should not be domineering or self-serving in their leadership (see, e.g., 1 Pet. 5:2-3). As we shall see, however, some HCM advocates seem to mean more than just this. In fact, they seem to question whether elders are intended to have the kind of authority implied by such terms as governing and ruling in the first place. This is especially clear when reading one of the online articles that seeks to explain the HCM point of view, an article by Hal Miller entitled “An Elder's Authority: That of Children and Slaves.” In this article Miller attempts to argue that “the New Testament does not say anything about one believer having authority over another. We have plenty of authority over things, even over spirits, but never over other Christians.” Miller obviously believes that this includes elders.

On the other hand, Steve Atkerson is more cautious at this point and does believe that elders have some degree of authority in the churches. For example, in an interesting article entitled “New Testament Church Leadership,” Atkerson states:
[E]lders that [Timothy and Titus] appointed could be expected to do the same types of things that the temporary apostolic workers did on the local level (1Ti 1:3, 4:11 , 5:17 , 6:17 , Tit 1:12 -13, 2:15 , 3:10). From this is it clear that it is proper for elders, in exercising leadership, to authoritatively reprove, speak, teach, and guide. Elders are to “rule well” and “oversee” the churches, taking the initiative in prompting and guarding. (Italics mine.)
Atkerson also later argues that “each elder is equal in authority to all the other elders in the city (there is to be no 'senior' pastor nor presiding bishop over a city). A leader’s primary authority is based on his ability to persuade with the truth” (Italics mine).

So, unlike Miller, Atkerson clearly does believe that elders have authority in the churches where they serve, even if he believes it must be exercised with great humility and caution and with due appreciation for the proper role of the congregation in making important decisions. He also rightly sees their authority as based on their “ability to persuade with the truth.” In this regard, Steve Atkerson seems to be on pretty much the same page as the typical Reformed Baptist on this issue. It is baffling to me, then, that Atkerson can go on to cite Miller's aforementioned article as approvingly as he does:
Jesus’ comments on leadership truly must be the starting point and final reference in our understanding of an elder’s authority. Hal Miller has insightfully observed, “Jesus’ disturbing teaching about authority among his followers contrasts their experience of it with every other society. The kings of the Gentiles, he said, lord it over their subjects and make that appear good by calling themselves 'benefactors.' They exercise their power and try (more or less successfully) to make people think that it is for their own good. But it should never be so in the church. There, on the contrary, the one who leads is as a slave and the one who rules is as the youngest (Lk 22:24 -27). Lest this lose its impact, you should stop to reflect that the youngest and the slaves are precisely those without authority in our normal sense of the word. Yet this is what leadership among Jesus’ people is like.”
Since Atkerson approvingly cites Miller's article as an insightful explanation of the Scriptural teaching on the authority of elders, I will turn my attention to it for the remainder of my examination. I will cite and respond to key passages from the article. All texts cited by me are from the New King James Version.

Response to Hal Miller on Elder Authority

Miller begins his Biblical discussion of the issue with an appeal to Jesus' teaching of the disciples in Luke 22:
Jesus’ disturbing teaching about authority among his followers contrasts their experience of it with every other society. The kings of the Gentiles, he said, lord it over their subjects and make that appear good by calling themselves "benefactors." They exercise their power and try (more or less successfully) to make people think that it is for their own good. But it should never be so in the church. There, on the contrary, the one who leads is as a slave and the one who rules is as the youngest (Lk 22:24-27). Lest this lose its impact, you should stop to reflect that the youngest and the slaves are precisely those without authority in our normal sense of the word. Yet this is what leadership among Jesus’ people is like.
What is interesting about this citation is what it leaves out. Let's have a look at the whole passage in order to see what I mean:
Luke 22:24-27 “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called “benefactors.” 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.'”
Notice the final statement of Jesus, in which He gives His own practice as an example of what He means. He says, “Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” But the question that immediately comes to mind for me is, Did Jesus set aside His authority when He acted among them as One who serves? The answer to this question demonstrates the problem with Miller's view of the passage. Unless he wants to argue that Jesus had no authority or never exercised His authority as One who came to serve – a truly incredible position to have to take – then I fail to see how he can say that Jesus intended by this teaching that the disciples would have no authority as future leaders of the Church. After all, if He is the example they are to follow in leading the Church, and He did not set aside His authority when He acted as a servant to them, then why should we think that He intended that they have no authority? Now, of course, we shouldn't think that they would possess the same authority as Jesus in every way – there are degrees of authority, and they would always be under His authority – but the notion that His teaching here requires that they have no authority at all strikes me as going well beyond anything the text clearly asserts or even implies. But Miller's claims get even more outrageous:
The most obvious aspect of what the NT has to say about leadership and authority is its lack of interest in the subject. In all of Paul’s major letters, for instance, leaders only appear in Php 1:1, and there only in passing. For the most part, he ignores them, as do the other writers. Jesus’ immediate followers were strangely silent about leadership and authority. This silence, it turns out, is quite significant.
First, Miller apparently doesn't see either 1 Timothy or Titus as among the “major letters” of Paul. The problem is that they are definitely the major letters in which he addresses the role of elders in the churches. I guess you could say that Paul has a "lack of interest in the subject" if you only want to consider his “major letters” and if you first decide that the letters in which he discusses the subject most fully don't count as among his “major letters,” but it hardly amounts to a serious line of Biblical argument. One cannot just choose to count only the Biblical evidence that he thinks will suit his purpose and ignore the rest. At least he cannot do this if he accepts all of Scripture as his authority. But, then, Miller seems to have a problem with the very idea of authority, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me.

Second, I find it incredible that Miller can say that “Jesus' immediate followers were strangely silent about leadership and authority” when there is plenty of indication that they took the issue very seriously indeed. For example, there is the account in Acts of the appointment of elders by Paul and Barnabas in the churches they founded, which means that it obviously was an important issue for them (14:23). And there is the account of the elders' leadership in bringing the Church to a Biblical decision about the matter of circumcision and the role of the law in the early Church (Acts 15:6-29; 16:4). There is also the account of Paul's charge to the Ephesian elders, which shows how important he thought their leadership to the church there really was (Acts 20:17-35). Then there is the teaching of Paul in the Pastoral Epistles, which serve as handbooks to the proper leadership of the churches for Timothy and Titus, including the proper qualifications for those who would serve as leaders after them (see, .e.g., 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Tit. 1:5f.). As a matter of fact, he seems to regard churches as properly ordered only where elders have been appointed:
Titus 1:5 “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you....”
Paul must have thought proper leadership for the churches was pretty important! But to his testimony we could also add Peter's instruction to elders in 1 Peter 5:1-4, as well as the important teaching of the author of Hebrews (13:7, 17). Given all such evidence, how Miller could say that Jesus' immediate followers were “strangely silent about leadership and authority” is beyond me. But he has still more astounding claims to make. For example, after discussing the Greek word dúnamis as not indicating that Christians are to have power over each other, Miller then says:
Things become even more interesting when we turn to the other relevant Greek word: exousia. This word is usually translated as "power" or "authority" and is the closest equivalent to our English word "authority." The NT’s list of those who have exousia is essentially the same as those who have dunamis: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels and demons. But now, the list extends to humans who are not merely energized by heavenly authority but have authority themselves.

Thus, kings have authority to rule (Ro 13:1-2) and Jesus’ disciples have authority over diseases and spirits (e.g., Mt 10:1). Believers have authority over the various facets of their lives – their possessions (Ac 5:4), and eating, drinking, and being married (1Co 11:10). What is striking, however, is that the NT does not say anything about one believer having authority over another.

The New Testament does not say anything about one believer having authority over another. We have plenty of authority over things, even over spirits, but never over other Christians....

We have plenty of authority over things, and even over spirits, but never over other Christians. Considering how much energy we put into discussions of who has authority in the church, that should be surprising. Kings have authority over their subjects; Paul had authority from the high priest to persecute Christians (Ac 9:14; 26:10-12). But in the church, one believer is never spoken of as having exousia over another, regardless of their position or prestige. The New Testament does not say anything about one believer having authority over another. We have plenty of authority over things, even over spirits, but never over other Christians. With the exception, that is, of 2Co 10:8 and 13:10. In these texts Paul speaks of having "authority" to build up, not tear down. It seems that he, at least, has exousia over other believers. Admittedly, one has to over-interpret the texts in order to make them a real exception since in both cases this is not an authority "over" anyone but rather an authority "for" a purpose.
First, I do not think it is an “over-interpretation” to say that Paul uses the term exousía to describe his Apostolic authority over the church at Corinth. In the context, he is clearly indicating that he has authority to correct them and to command them as he does. That this authority is given for the purpose of building rather than tearing down the churches does not in any way diminish the fact that it is an authority he clearly possesses.

Second, Miller has continued with his practice of selectivity in setting forth Biblical evidence. Why should we look only at the most common Greek word for authority – exousía – and ignore any other terms that might apply? For example, what about Paul's use of authentéō in 1 Timothy 2?
1 Timothy 2:12 “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority [authentéō] over a man, but to be in silence.”
To be sure, Paul here denies that women may teach or have authority over men in the churches, but does he not indicate by this very exclusion that there are some who may teach and have authority over men, namely other men? Does he not clearly assume a role of teaching and authority in the churches for at least some men here?

Also, what about Paul's use of kephalē to describe the husband as head of the wife and hupotássō to describe a wife's submission to her husband as an authority?

Ephesians 5:23-24 “23 For the husband is head [kephalē] of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject [hupotássō] to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

Wayne Grudem addresses the meaning of these two important terms in his An Open Letter to Egalitarians:
1. kephalē: Where the Bible says that the husband is the "head'' (kephalē) of the wife as Christ is the "head'' (kephalē) of the church (Eph. 5:23), and that the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3), you tell us that "head'' here means "source'' and not "person in authority over (someone).'' In fact, as far as we can tell, your interpretation depends on the claim that kephalē means "source without the idea of authority.''

But we have never been able to find any text in ancient Greek literature that gives support to your interpretation. Wherever one person is said to be the "head'' of another person (or persons), the person who is called the "head'' is always the one in authority (such as the general of an army, the Roman emperor, Christ, the heads of the tribes of Israel, David as head of the nations, etc.) Specifically, we cannot find any text where person A is called the "head'' of person or persons B, and is not in a position of authority over that person or persons. So we find no evidence for your claim that "head'' can mean "source without authority''....

2. hypotassō [same word I have cited; different transliteration]: Where the Bible says that wives are to "be subject to'' to their husbands (Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5; and implied in Eph. 5:22, 24), you tell us that the verb "be subject to'' (hypotassō, passive) is a requirement for both husbands and wives-that just as wives are to be subject to their husbands, so husbands are to be subject to their wives, and that there is no unique authority that belongs to the husband. Rather, the biblical ideal is "mutual submission'' according to Ephesians 5:21, "be subject to one another,'' and therefore there is no idea of one-directional submission to the husband's authority in these other verses (Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5; and Eph. 5:22, 24).

But we have never been able to find any text in ancient Greek literature where hypotassō (passive) refers to a person or persons being "subject to'' another person, and where the idea of submission to that person's authority is absent. In every example we can find, when person A is said to "be subject to'' person B, person B has a unique authority which person A does not have. In other words, hypotassō always implies a one-directional submission to someone in authority....
So, as Grudem so clearly shows, Paul teaches that Christian husbands have authority over their wives, to which their wives are to submit. This will become even more relevant to the issue of elder authority later when I address the qualifications for elders. For now I would just add that Paul also clearly teaches that Christian masters have authority over their slaves and Christian parents have authority over their children. For example:
Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey [hupakoúō] your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:5 “Bondservants, be obedient [hupakoúō] to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ....”
In both cases Paul clearly sees those to whom obedience is commanded as being under the authority of those to be obeyed. What else could he possibly mean, especially since he tells the slave to be obedient to his master “as to Christ”? Would Miller seriously expect us to deny that this refers to a relationship of authority or to deny that parents have authority over their children?

Well, these are examples of ways in which Scripture can speak of authority relationships within the Church without ever using the word exousía. Miller appears to have committed the word-concept fallacy here. That is, he has assumed that because a particular word for “authority” isn't present in a text, that the concept is therefore not present. But my previous examples have shown the problem with this, namely that it assumes that there can be only one way that the Bible describes or discusses the concept of authority, and it ignores any other ways in which the Bible might speak to the issue. We will see just how problematic this is with regard to the role of elders in particular as I consider next the terms used to describe elders and their qualifications.

Terms Used For Elders and Their Qualifications

1. Elder (presbúteros): This is a term that was used in the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is important because the LXX was the common Bible for the Apostles and early Christians in the first century, and it provides the proper background for understanding much of the language in the New Testament. And the LXX uses presbúteros to refer to the leaders among the people of Israel. For example, Moses chose to delegate authority to these leaders to judge the people of Israel in many cases (Exod. 18:12-27; Num. 11:16-17). The elders of the people were already regarded as their leaders, but these special men chosen by Moses were also empowered by God to fulfill this ministry of judging the people. From that time onward their were elders who would judge matters among the people, commonly sitting at the city gates (Prov. 31:23). In the first century the elders of the people were still considered to be leaders among them and were commonly listed in this regard along with the other leaders, such as the chief priests (Matt. 21:23). Sadly, they even took part in the judgment of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Matt.26:57). Although the term undoubtedly took on a slightly different nuance when used by the early Christians, there can be no doubt that it continued to be used by them as a title of respect and authority (See, e.g., 1 Timothy 5:17).

2. Overseer (epískopos): This term also had an established LXX usage. For example, it could refer to Eleazar the son of Aaron as the one in charge of the tabernacle (Num. 4:16), to leaders of the army (Num. 31:14), or to those in charge of public works such as the restoration of the temple in the time of Josiah (2 Chron. 34:12, 17 ). In each case it refers to a position of authority. This term was then taken up by the Apostles as a reference to leaders in the churches (See, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2). Can it be that they used the term with no intention of communicating a position of authority? Hardly.

3. Steward (oikonómos): This term was also used in the LXX to describe one who was in a position of authority over a household (Isa. 36:22). In the New testament it is used literally of one who was put in charge of an estate (Luke 12:42) or of an official in charge of public funds and properties (Rom. 16:23), but it was also used by Paul to describe the office of an elder or overseer (Tit. 1:7). The church can be described by Paul as a household (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19), so it is not surprising that he would refer to overseers as stewards, or those in authority over this household.

4. Pastor (poimēn): Paul uses this term to describe the elder office in Ephesians 4:11, in which he refers to it as the office of pastor (or shepherd). This word is used “1) literally, [of] one who takes care of a group of animals shepherd, sheep herder (LU 2.8); (2) metaphorically, [of] one who assumes leadership over a group of believers; (a) as picturing Christ as the head of the church (HE 13.20); (b) as human leaders over a community of believers pastor, minister (EP 4.11)” (Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, by Timothy and Barbara Friberg, Bible Works #22408).

That pastor (poimēn) is another term used in reference to elders is clear when we see that the related verb meaning “to shepherd” (poimaínō) is also used to describe their ministry. For example:
Acts 20:28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [epískopos], to shepherd [poimaínō] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
1 Peter 5:1-2 “The elders [presbúteros] who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder [sumpresbúteros] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:[2] “Shepherd [poimaínō] the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers [episkopéō], not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly....”
This terminology also has a rich LXX background, being used to describe the leaders of Israel, such as David when he was inaugurated king of Israel (1 Chron. 11:2), the judges that God raised up for Israel (1 Chron. 17:6), or the leaders of Israel in the time of Ezekiel, who had failed as shepherds of the people (Ezek. 34:1-10). In all such cases it refers metaphorically to those who were in positions of authority in Israel. So, when the terminology is used of the leaders of the churches, the connotations of authority would not have been missed by the saints, especially since this terminology was combined with so many other terms indicating authority, as we have seen.

5. Leader (hēgéomai): This is actually a verb used as a participle, the plural form of which is employed as a substantive by the author of Hebrews to refer to “those who rule over you” (13:7, 17, 24). Not surprisingly, this term also has a LXX background, and was sometimes used to describe those who were made rulers (Deut. 1:13) or kings (1 Kings 1:35) over Israel. Again, the connotations of authority are clear.

6.“Those over you in the Lord” (proïstēmi): Paul uses this verb several times with reference to the leaders/elders of the churches. For example, he uses it to refer to the elders at Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you [proïstēmi] in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.”
Paul also uses the word to teach that one of the qualifications of an elder is that he rule his own household well:
1 Timothy 3:4-5 “... one who rules [proïstēmi] his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule [proïstēmi] his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)”
And that Paul sees such rule as indeed extended to the elder's role in the church is also clear:
1 Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders who rule [proïstēmi] well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”
Paul uses the very same word for the elders' ruling of the churches as he has used of their ruling of their own homes.

An Elder's Authority: That of Husbands and Fathers

Elder leadership, then, involves the kind of authority that these men exercised in their homes as husbands and fathers. As we have already seen, the husband is the head of the wife, who must submit to his authority (Eph. 5:23-24). And his children must also submit to his authority by being obedient (Eph. 6:1; 1 Tim. 3:4). But if this is what it means for a man to rule his own house, and this is the analogy used by Paul to describe an elder's rule of the church (which he views as a household, e.g. Gal. 6:10 and Eph. 2:19), how can it be denied that he sees the elders as having similar authority in the church to that of husbands and fathers?

So, the New Testament consistently uses terminology to refer to the elders as those having a position of authority. But this doesn't mean that such authority is to be exercised as it was by the judges or kings of Israel, for example, for the exercise of authority in the churches is qualified in several ways.

First, as we have seen the authority of the elders is to be exercised in a way similar to that of a husband or father, not a judge or a king. This means, for example, that they will exercise their authority with love, “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). They will lead the church “with understanding,” honoring their brothers and sisters in Christ as those who are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). They will never exercise their authority in such a way as to exasperate those under their charge, leading them to become discouraged (Col. 3:21).

Second, elders will exercise their authority as those who are mature and posses the fruit of the Spirit. They will exercise their authority with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). This kind of self-restrained and caring exercise of authority is very different from that of the world.

Third, to sum up, Scriptural elders will exercise their authority as Christ taught and exemplified. When He was preparing the disciples for their future role of leadership in the Church, He said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42b-45).

But, as I previously pointed out with regard to Miller's citation of Luke 22:24-27, Jesus did not set aside His authority, or the exercise thereof, when He came as the great Shepherd (Pastor) of the sheep (Heb. 13:20 ; see also John 10:1-30). So there is no reason to think that the elders who serve as His under-shepherds should exercise no authority, as Miller suggests. It only means that they will not lord their authority over the churches in a self-serving way, but instead will follow Christ's example and exercise their authority with self-sacrificing love, understanding, patience, and humility.

But how might this look in practice? Well, we do have some examples of how the Apostles and their fellow-elders led the early Church when making some important decisions, so let's examine a couple of them.

First, when there was discord in the church at Jerusalem over the way that some of the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution for the poor, we find that the Apostles developed a plan of action that involved bringing the congregation along in the process. The Apostles determined that it would be good for the congregation to choose from among them seven qualified men that they themselves would appoint over the daily distribution (Acts 6:1-7). But notice that the Apostles themselves determined the plan of action and appointed the men for the task, even though they wisely sought the input of the congregation as to who would be the best men for the job. In other words, they exercised their authority with love and humility. But they did not set aside their authority. After all, the congregation did not come up with the plan or appoint the men to serve. This was a leadership role that the Apostles reserved for themselves. And the congregation clearly looked to them for such leadership, which is why they brought the problem to them in the first place.

Second, when there was a great division over the issue of circumcision, we are told that “the Apostles and elders came together to consider this matter” and that they had much debate about the issue (Acts 15:6-7). But we are also told that there was a “multitude” present that “kept silent and listened” as Paul and Barnabas reported to the them and then James responded with a plan to solve the problem (vs.12-21). Then we are told that James' plan “pleased the Apostles and elders, with the whole church” to send chosen men with a letter to the other churches describing the decision they had reached. But then later, in Acts 16, we are told that as Paul, Silas, and Timothy “went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the Apostles and elders” (vs.4). So, even though the members of the church at Jerusalem are said to have been present at the Apostles' and elders' discussion of the matter and were pleased with the outcome of the discussion, it is also clear that it is the Apostles and elders themselves that determined what was to be done. Thus we have a situation in which the leadership exercised their authority to determine what was to be done, but that they apparently did so in such a way as to establish a consensus on the matter among the brethren in Jerusalem.

What the example of the Apostles and elders shows us is that it is best for the leadership of the churches to lead in such a way as to seek peace and to establish a consensus on important matters, and that they should exercise their authority to that end. Where the elders have done their job and have communicated a wise, Scriptural answer to an issue, the response of the congregation should be that they submit to their leadership in such a way as to make their work a source of joy rather than grief. This is what the author of Hebrews commands, when he says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (13:17).

In conclusion, it can be said without reservation that Hal Miller is wrong when he tries to argue that “the New Testament does not say anything about one believer having authority over another.” Steve Atkerson is much closer to the Scriptural teaching here, which is why it is hard for me to see how he can recommend Miller's article as he does. It would seem that there is not a clear consensus between them on the issue. But this lack of clarity does, perhaps, explain why I keep running into HCM advocates that seem to have a hard time admitting that elders should have authority in the churches. It also helps to explain why I see among so many of them such a de-emphasis on the role of elders when compared with Scriptural teaching. Perhaps I will deal with another possible reason for this de-emphasis in a future blog post focusing on the misunderstanding of the word ekklēsía among some HCM advocates.