Ministry, Preaching

PulpitPreachers often pray for unction as they preach, but what is it? E.M. Bounds explains:

Unction is that indefinable, indescribable something which an old, renowned Scotch preacher describes thus: ‘There is sometimes somewhat in preaching that cannot be described either be matter of expression, and cannot be described what it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet violence it pierceth into the heart and affections and comes immediately from the Lord.’ We call it unction. It is this unction which makes the Word of God ‘quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ It is this unction which gives the words of the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and which creates such friction and stir in many a dead congregation. The same truths have been told in the strictness of the letter, smooth as human oil could make them; but no signs of life, not a pulse throb; all as peaceful as the grave and as dead. The same preacher in the meanwhile receives a baptism of this unction, the divine inflatus is on him, the letter of the Word has been embellished and fired by this mysterious power, and the throbbing of life begin – life which receives or life which resists. The unction pervades and convicts the conscience and breaks the heart.

This divine unction is the feature which separates and distinguishes true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting the turret, and which creates a wide spiritual chasm between the preacher who has it and the one who has it not. It supports and impregnates revealed truth with all the energy of God. Unction is simply putting God in his own Word and on his own preacher. By mighty and great prayerfulness and by continual prayerfulness, it is all potential and personal to the preacher; it inspires and clarifies his intellect, gives insight and grasp and projecting power; it gives to the preacher heart power, which is greater than head power; and tenderness, purity, force flow from the heart by it. Enlargement, freedom, fullness of thought, directness and simplicity of utterance are the fruits of this unction… what of unction? It is the indefinable in preaching which makes it preaching. It is that which distinguishes and separates preaching from all mere human addresses. It is the divine in preaching.

E.M. Bounds in Power Through Prayer (Chapter 15)

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Why I Love Politics – And Why I Won’t Preach Them From the Pulpit

Christian Living, Culture, Preaching, The Church

When it comes to politics and political systems (probably much to the chagrin of many of my friends and family), I have a lot of opinions. Assuredly, they may not be your opinions, and I don’t expect you to care as much about the rise to power and fall of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia/Yugoslavia in the late 90’s as I do (I wrote a paper on him in my Comparative Politics class in college). In 2000 as an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico, my major was Political Science, particularly focused on international political ideology. I can assure you, the textbooks aren’t much more exciting than the subject matter sounds. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it – I wanted to know why societies function the way they do, what political leaders believe, and how they rise to power. I was interested in learning if there’s a significant difference between Communism, Marxism, and Fascism. And of course, I was very interested in what really goes on in the American political system and whether or not the United States is really a government by the people, for the people. In my mind, I was a future politician in the making: I loved politics and working with political campaigns, had a job with an Albuquerque law firm working on cases at the federal level, and was on the cusp of beginning a season of military service.

As I consider my past, I thank God that He had other plans for my life. I’m not sure a lot of parents feel warm and fuzzy when their child reports that their greatest ambition in life is to become a politician. I was that kid. But having a keen eye on the political process, studying the progression of policies and parties, and serving in the military at the launch of two different wars has a way of alerting a young man to the reality that ideological principles of governmental leaders really do have consequences that effect the everyday lives of real people. I may never meet the President, his staff, or any members of congress, but what they do each day has a significant impact on the future for me, my family, and the church I pastor.

I know most people won’t care about politics as much as I do, and I’m ok with that. Whether or not you know the United States is a constitutional republic and not a democracy isn’t really all that important (Did you know the founders of the United States feared democracy as much as a monarchy?). I don’t think Americans should have to pass some basic exam to prove their level of political knowledge before voting – such ideas fly in the face of the political ideology upon which the nation was founded. And yet, I do wish more Americans knew and cared about the issues that shape our nation at least to the point of being able to make informed decisions as to who they should vote for, even if they can’t or don’t want to have an engaging conversation on those issues.

As a Christian and a pastor, the politics of the country I am in take on another level of meaning that non-Christian people don’t generally pay much attention to. As the United States Government has evolved since its founding, more and more moral issues have become issues of policy on which the Church should express the truth. Additionally, policy decisions made in Washington D.C. have a significant impact on how each local church is able to function in its community. We are called to be culture shapers and makers, and we have to utilize the means at our disposal to do so. In a day when the moral repugnance of genocide via abortion, homosexual union, and euthanasia are front and center on the political stage, the Church has something to say because God has something to say. But how shall we say it?

I find it unfortunate that many pastors will preach politics from the pulpit, and in fact there is currently a movement afoot to get pastors to forego the preaching of their regularly scheduled sermon and instead encourage the people of God to support a political agenda in favor of specific political candidates. And while the move to do so might be well intentioned, it’s a pulpit crime (in the words of Dr. James White) worthy of rebuke. While the church has a duty to speak clearly with regards to moral issues like the sanctity of life and marriage, she does not have a biblical commission to promote individuals or parties for political office in the gathering of God’s people for worship.

Lord’s Day worship and the gathering of the Saints is just that – a reprieve from the cares and concerns of the world, and a time and a place for unity, peace, shared joy, and nourishment for the soul in the proper administration of the Word and Sacraments. A worship service is not a political rally nor a platform to promote the ideas of one political party over another, but rather a time and a place to focus our hearts and minds on being conformed more and more to Christ Jesus, our eternal Lord and Savior. I happen to believe that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to teach, reprove, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness that they may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Part of that equipping is developing a moral conscience in the people of God that informs their decision making. Christian people should know that abortion and euthanasia are murder and homosexual acts are an abomination to God. What Christian people don’t need is their pastor binding their conscience to a specific political candidate or party from the pulpit where the pronouncement is not to be “Thus sayeth your pastor,” but rather, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” God has not revealed in His Word the appropriate political voice for American Christians in the 21st Century to rally around, therefore any pronouncement of such from the pulpit is outside the bounds of the proper preaching of God’s Word.

I trust Christian people to make good choices when their conscience is formed by the Word of God. I know there are Christian people who are much more godly and holy than I, and yet express political views different than mine. While we are working from the same biblical foundation, so long as we are not saying yes to sin, we ought to lovingly submit to the reality that our Holy Spirit driven consciences will often drive us in somewhat different directions (and yes, somewhat is a modifier in this sentence, because in the grand scope, our underlying principles should bring about somewhat similar results). Yes, have good and passionate political debate – know the issues, seek to convince others of your position, and appeal to the Scriptures for your conclusions. But please don’t make the foolish statement that Jesus was either a Republican or a Democrat, that any political candidate is the greatest thing for America, or that we will be without hope if someone other than who we vote for wins a political office.

The Sovereign God of the universe has appointed the governing authorities of the world. Be in subjection to those who are appointed over you, for your good (Romans 13:1-7). Pray for our leaders, for it is pleasing to God (1 Timothy 2:1-3). And by all means, seek to live at peace with brothers and sisters in Christ and do not be at enmity over the political issues of the day. Issues will come and go, but we will dwell together as sons and daughters of God for all eternity. We may disagree and we may enjoy debating why, but we must remember that whoever is elected is God’s appointed authority, and not because others simply did not vote the way we told them they should. Remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Trust in God’s sovereignty and His care for His people – after all, He’s on our side, so who can be against us (Romans 8)? Now that will preach!

(By: Nick Kennicott)

The Cross and Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson- A Review (Part 1 of 2)

Book Reviews

There is no shortage of books purporting to provide ministerial guidance for pastors, too many for any one man to read and process. The discerning reader will dramatically narrow this field by sticking with those authors who order their counsel according to God’s Word and avoiding those who immediately adopt the presuppositions and tactics of business marketing or secular psychology. God’s revelation of Himself and His ways must rule our practice as well as our belief, and therefore the Bible is the ultimate and primary source of all practical ministerial guidance. If we depart from God’s Word at this point and seek the wisdom of Madison Avenue or the pop-psychology/self-esteem gurus, we play the part of the prodigal son. We leave the riches of our Father’s house to chase after the chimera wisdom of a fleeting age.

The objection which may be raised against this sort of insistence on a Bible-driven ministry is that the Bible actually contains little in relation to the minutia of pastoral ministry. It must be admitted that there is some truth in this charge. God’s Word compels us to preach (2 Timothy 4:1-2), yet it does not dictate the sermon’s length or topic. It compels us to evangelize, yet we are given only general guidelines (1 Peter 3:15) and circumstantial examples (Mark 5:20). It is not difficult to empathize with those who feel they must look to other sources than the Bible for practical guidance as they seek to shepherd the flock and evangelize the lost, especially as it relates to their specific cultural context.

It is this arena which D. A. Carson enters with his book The Cross and Christian Ministry. Here he shows that those who would depart from their Bibles, seeking a more practical and direct source of ministerial guidance, are actually walking away from the greatest source of this wisdom which can be found. This vital source of ministerial wisdom is not to be found outside the Scriptures, rather it is to be found in that central and penultimate theme of the Scriptures: the cross of Jesus Christ. In five chapters Carson shows how a radically cross-centered understanding of the pastorate, the church, and the world will take us into a deeper and more Christ-like ministry than any other scheme. Carson explains

“The cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach. It prescribes what Christian leaders must be and how Christians must view their leaders. It tells us how to serve and draws us onward in discipleship until we understand what it means to be world Christians” (p. 9).

Carson’s five chapters are all built out of the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. Through careful exegesis and helpful examples built from his years of ministry, Carson assembles a set of cross-centered prescriptions which all ministers and ministerial aspirants would do well to emulate.  I’d like to take two posts and work through this very helpful book, with the hope that others will be encouraged to pick it up and be as blessed by it as I have been.

Chapter One: The Cross and Preaching

The first of the five chapters deals with The Cross and Preaching. The key text used is 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, wherein Paul declares that his primary task as an Apostle of God is to preach the message of the cross. Carson begins by effectively reminding the reader how abhorrent and culturally disgraceful crucifixion was to first century Jews and Romans. We are reminded of the deep irony of 1 Corinthians 1:23: Christianity preaches eternal life through a means of death, a message which is foolishness to those who are perishing. This chapter of the book dwells on a text rich in ministerial counsel. Carson applies the words of Scripture to our view of ourselves (Not many of you were wise), our view of our own ministerial labors (let him who boasts, boast in the Lord), and the focus of our preaching (For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified).

The central theme of this chapter is the manner and the content of Christian preaching.  Carson writes

“Granted that ‘preaching’ or ‘proclaiming’ in the Scriptures is not restricted to something done behind a wooden pulpit between 11:00 and 12:00 on Sunday mornings, it is nevertheless hard to avoid the strength of this emphasis on proclamation in the New Testament. The reason for the emphasis lies in the message itself” (p. 37).

At this point one of the chief strengths of this book becomes very evident. Carson is not content to simply stop with platitudes and mottoes, however Biblical they may be. He presses on and gives direct, practical, exegetically sound application. Explaining Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Carson writes

“…what he means is that all he does and teaches is tied to the cross. He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered” (p. 38).

True cross-centeredness isn’t just about standing in a historically orthodox line of the church or about a carefully crafted creedal statement; it’s about a ministry that actually and constantly proclaims the cross of Christ. A cross-centered ministry preaches Christ and Him Crucified at every opportunity and in every sermon. This sort of preaching ministry is extreme, radical, and tenacious- and it’s exactly what God calls us to in 1 Corinthians 2:2: For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The point is not that every sermon has the cross as its main topic or initial starting point, but that every sermon will inevitably be related to or arrive at the cross and Christ’s death for sinners.

Chapter Two: The Cross and the Holy Spirit

Chapter Two takes up the subject of The Cross and the Holy Spirit. Textually, Carson continues in 1 Corinthians into verses 6-16 of chapter two. This chapter provides the theological backdrop for the radically gospel-centered ministry prescribed in chapter one. Carson shows that the Bible both gives us a message to preach (the cross), and promises that the Holy Spirit will testify in the hearts of men who hear this preaching, bringing them to see truth of the gospel. This is a thrilling and liberating doctrine for Christian ministry. Pastors are free from a crippling and slavish subjection to this world and it’s shifting whims. As Carson writes on page 60,

“From this perspective, it is idiotic- that is not too strong a word- to extol the world’s perspective and secretly lust after its limited vision. That is what the Corinthians were apparently doing; that is what we are in danger of doing every time we adopt our world’s shibboleths, dote on its heroes, admire its transient stars, seek its admiration, and play to its applause.”

Chapter Three: The Cross and Factionalism

Chapter three is drawn from 1 Corinthians 3:1-23, and has as its title The Cross and Factionalism. In these verses the Apostle Paul chides the Corinthians for their immaturity and corrects their tendency to rally around a dynamic leader: You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). As was the case in the preceding chapters, Carson must first correct erroneous interpretations of this text which have become unfortunately common in evangelicalism. He begin the chapter by noting that “Few passages of the New Testament have been abused by preachers and writers more than this one” (p. 68). In part, Carson deconstructs the current extreme theory of the “carnal Christian,” a doctrine which is primarily built from 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. While he is careful to affirm that “Certainly there is such a thing as a carnal or worldly Christian…” he also points out that “the ‘carnal Christian’ theory has in recent years taken on some fairly weird extremes that bear little relation to what this chapter actually says” (p. 69).

The main thrust of this chapter is to come along side and amplify Paul’s denunciation of factionalism in the church of Christ. It is hard to underestimate the relevance of the ministerial vision of this text to today’s church. The Corinthian factionalists who claimed improper allegiance to Paul or to Apollos did great damage to the church, her peace, and her witness. One can hear echoes of this divisive factionalism all around today’s church. Celebrity-driven ministries and bitter infighting plague the church. Far too many pockets of the church are seemingly intent to move their own fences in as far as possible, rather than spread the kingdom to the ends of the earth. The antidote for the ministerial poison of factionalism is to die to pride and immaturity, and live to a cross-centered vision of the church and her mission. Men must be liberated from the rampant cult of personality and the parochial divisiveness endemic in modern Protestantism. This liberation comes from resting one’s identity in Christ alone and by taking seriously the simple charge to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.

We’ll finish next time by looking at chapters four and five in this very helpful book.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

2012 ARBCA General Assembly


2012 marks the 5th consecutive year that I’ve attended the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches (ARBCA) General Assembly. This year we are gathering in Chickopee, Massachusetts. I am thankful to be a pastor of an ARBCA member church, and I am grateful for the opportunity to not only partner with, but see other ARBCA pastors each year. As I think about what I’m most thankful for each year, 7 specific items come to mind:

1. Encouragement and Challenge

Every year, I am reminded how sinful I am, how gracious God is, how great a Savior I have, and how God has given us godly examples to follow. While we accomplish many wonderful things at our General Assembly, the best part of our gathering is the fellowship. I am always stirred up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), and challenged to pursue godliness and righteousness more fervently. The fire for ministry needs to be stoked every now and then, and being around like-minded men whom I can only hope to be half as godly as, has a great way of making the coals burn brighter.

2. Reminders of our Global Task

One of the primary reasons Ephesus Church is associated with ARBCA is because of the opportunity it provides us to be involved in the global missionary task in a way that we are not able to do on our own. I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded each year that we are responsible for bringing the gospel to the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and hearing and seeing how that is being accomplished through the support of member churches.

3. Christ-Centered Preaching

Each day of the General Assembly is packed with devotions and sermons that are thoroughly Christ-Centered. I need the constant reminder that Christ is my righteousness, and I am thankful to hear faithful men preach the Word with passion and clarity. Every General Assembly I have attended has made me a better preacher. When I was learning to play jazz piano, every teacher I studied under reminded me, “Jazz is a language, and the only way to really learn it is to hear it regularly.” Preaching is a language, and if I want to do it well, I need to hear it often – and it certainly helps that it’s good!

4. Unhurried Prayer

I am reminded at each General Assembly that I am surrounded by faithful men of prayer. I am thankful for the extended times of prayer when we are able to join our hearts together in seeking the Lord for continued faithful ministry, perseverance, greater affections for Jesus, progress in our gospel spreading efforts, and a growing love and unity with one another.

5. Fraternal Unity

For now, I am officially the youngest pastor of an ARBCA member church at the ripe age of 30, but the men of the association consider me a peer, are genuinely interested in my ministry, and encourage me in incredible ways. It is not lost on me that many of these men were pastors before I was born, and their collective wisdom is a tremendous help. There is a unity among the ARBCA pastors that is rare, and I am grateful to be right in the middle of it. We are serious about the Lord and what He is doing to build His church, and we are serious about having a good time together – I laugh and weep during the GA more than most weeks of my life.

6. Hearing About God’s Work

Missionaries are busy, churches are being planted, and established churches are growing in faith and numbers. Christ is building His church around faithful preaching and serious worship all throughout the world (Matthew 16:18). The ARBCA General Assembly gives us opportunity to hear what God is doing in and through His church, and provides us the opportunity to hear directly from those who are in the middle of the work.

7. Books

I can always count on Michael Gaydosh from Solid Ground Christian Books to have a large selection of reformed books at low prices. Pastors love books, and I’m no exception. I’m thankful for the availability of these wonderful resources.

(By: Nick Kennicott)