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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Biblical Leadership is a Serious Matter

American soldiers train like Olympic athletes—but with this difference: they train their bodies to perform at the highest pitch, but they also train their minds to work at the same high pitch.” Gen. Fred Franks, Jr.

The Engaged, Involved Spiritual Warrior
There are far too many Christian males who see church and their leadership in the home as a “laid back experience.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, there are many in the modern Church who are guilty of not warning these “laid back” warriors of the intensity and danger of spiritual warfare. It’s one thing to warn them and have them tell us to leave them alone. It’s quite another thing not even to warn them. Those who insist on taking such a laid back approach to spiritual warfare will be mauled and maimed in the spiritual battle that is raging around them. Nothing less than the eternal destiny of their soul and the souls of those with whom they’ve been entrusted is at stake.
What should we be looking for in a local church then? Obviously, no one wants to attend a hostile and spiritually dead church. Just as there are “seeker sensitive churches” the opposite end of the spectrum is the local church that is “seeker hostile.” One of the confessional statements that has been handed down to us from the time known as the Reformation—The Belgic Confession—reminds us of the “marks” or “notes” of a true church of Jesus Christ. That same document spells out as our obligation to seek out, join, and submit ourselves to the biblical teachings of such a church.

Joining a Church: An Important Decision
Let’s take them in reverse order. Some of the language is somewhat antiquated, so I’m going to take the liberty to “easify” it for you and put it into everyday English.
First, we’ll deal with our obligation to join a true church of Jesus Christ. Article 28 of the Belgic Confession is a little long, but since it is so germane for our purposes I’m going to quote it in its entirety.
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving for the upbuilding of the fellow members, according to the talents God has given them.
And that this may be better observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the Church, and join themselves to this congregation, wherever God has established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes are against it; indeed, though they should suffer death of bodily punishment.[1]
To some, both the language and the concepts contained in this 28th article of the Belgic Confession are antiquated and virtually unintelligible. The very fact that the word, “duty” is used with regard to finding and joining a true local church of Christ is a foreign notion.[2] When Guido de Brès, the author, penned these words in 1561, he had little idea that he would die a martyr’s death in 1567. On the other hand, maybe he did. At least he followed his own advice and suffered death rather than separate from God’s Church.
His language sets before us the seriousness of being a Christian and joining a local covenant community/congregation. Once we have attached ourselves to such a congregation, our goals are manifold. All men are called upon to maintain the unity of the church. In addition, they are to submit themselves to that local congregation both for instruction in the Word of God, and, if necessary, church discipline. Moreover, they are to use their gifts and talents for the edification of the other members.
These are not unreasonable requirements but I’m certain that to a large segment of modern Christianity this is the exact opposite of what they’re hearing coming from the pulpit. Some modern churches has told their attendees that they will give them whatever they want just to get them to come back. Once you’ve started down that path, it’s a little difficult to begin to insert requirements. You can attempt it, but as soon as an attendee perceives that he or she is no longer being catered to, he is off to the next place that promises him what he wants. This is especially true of the most spoiled generation in the history of the world: the baby boomers. I should know. I’m one of them so that makes me part of the problem. There are a number of legitimate reasons for seeking out, finding, and attaching yourself to a local church.

Why do We Worship?
The purpose of attending or joining a church should not be, first and foremost, entertainment. The primary purpose ought to be to worship the Lord and glorify him. A secondary purpose surely must be in order to learn how to live and lead as a Christian. Are these your goals and aspirations in belonging to a local church? A key part of the Christian life is training for inevitable spiritual warfare. In the military, raw recruits undergo a lot of repetition in Basic Training. That’s a good way to learn. But the Basic Training program also covers a wide gamut of topics and applications. It doesn’t just harp on how to take your weapon apart and put it back together every day. There are other matters and situations that must be studied and dealt with as well.
These subjects are also an important part of the warrior’s survival training. There’s a clearly defined and well thought through plan for the recruits. Each exercise, each drill has a specific purpose. The DIs[3] know what is necessary for the troops to learn in order to be able to survive on the battlefield. Painstakingly and consistently they teach the requisite skills so that the soldiers will be able to “ply their trade” when the time comes. You can’t help but wonder how the modern Church measures up in terms of what it’s teaching God’s people and how it’s preparing them for survival in the spiritual war that’s being waged.
Second, we’re told that there are certain “marks” whereby we may be certain that we are joining a true church. Few today give this much consideration at all. If you ask the proverbial man or woman in “the pew” about why they chose a particular church, you might get answers that deal with the proximity to their house, the music, the youth programs, or the style of the church buildings themselves. Are there other matters that ought to concern us in our church choice?
In article 29 of the Belgic Confession, we read these words. “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached in it; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing if sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary to it rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.”[4] To many modern Christians, this, no doubt, sounds very odd. Indeed, many modern churches would reject this explanation as out of hand. It remains for you and me to ask ourselves what it is that we’re looking for in a church home.
I mentioned above that a wide variety of subjects might come to mind including good youth programs, contemporary worship, music, and similar considerations. The Belgic Confession, however, asks us to ponder other weightier matters. Such matters are certainly worthy of our prayerful consideration. Hardly ever, if ever, do we ask what kind of training we’re receiving from our home church. Is it preparing us well for spiritual warfare and to be an effective spiritual warrior? Are we being incorporated into a spiritual “team” called a covenant community or are we being left alone to become a spiritual “army of one?” Again, these are serious matters and serious questions. It must be acknowledged that Satan and his host, the world and its ways, and our own old man of sin are formidable enemies. That being the case, we need to be prepared and willing to be trained for being spiritual warriors.
Of course the modern Church is confronted by a problem that doesn’t exist in the Basic Training instruction in the armed forces. If you go AWOL[5] from the armed forces, you face a military tribunal. Depending on the verdict of that tribunal a soldier could get a stiff fine, have to face incarceration, or even get a dishonorable discharge. The situation is entirely different in the Church. People come and go pretty much as they please. In fact, it’s not too much to assert that modern Christians have little or no concept of the importance of church membership. Many evangelical churches in Southern California, where I live, pride themselves on having no church membership and actually scoff at churches that do have it as I mentioned earlier. Modern Church strategists and tacticians realize that if people are coming to church to hear what they’ve been allowed and encouraged to say they want to hear, then you pretty much have to give that to them.

Reversing the Model
The upshot of what I’m describing is comparable to raw recruits in the armed forces coming into Basic Training and dictating to the officers and NCOs what they want to do. Can you imagine what kind of army that would be? You take a poll of recruits and ask them what it would take to get them to come to Basic Training and then promise them that if they’ll just come and give BT a chance, you’ll meet their needs. At the very least, that army would be virtually ineffective on the battlefield.
A trained enemy would accomplish an early and complete rout with little or no effort. It would be Barney against the Attila the Hun. No one who has spent any time in the military could conceive of a situation where the recruits would makes statements like, “We’d like to sleep in a little on Tuesdays and Fridays; maybe until 9:00 or 9:30AM.” “Parades should be held only on a once-a-month basis instead of every week. They’re far too time consuming and boring. Mosquitoes and ‘sand-fleas’ crawl in your ears and bite you as well.” “Forced marches are out. They’re senseless and we just get exhausted doing them. Besides, a lot of the guys get nasty blisters on their feet from those long marches and ours knees get sore carrying those heavy rucksacks.” “A little less time at the rifle range would be nice combined with more free time for happy hour.” Sounds like time for golf and beer with Barney, but not preparation for combat. “I love you, you love me” time.
As I’ve already mentioned, that kind of army wouldn’t last five minutes on the battlefield against a trained enemy. General Fred Franks (Ret.) has the right idea about fighting the enemy on the battlefield. He believed “that you had to make it an unfair fight as rapidly as you could.”[6] More specifically, Franks says, “If the enemy fired at us (in Vietnam) with a single AK-47 round, we pounded them with all we had. We put as much firepower back on them as we had, so much firepower that they wished they hadn’t started something.”[7] This is the way battles are to be fought. Twenty-four to twenty-three might be exciting in the NFL, but not in battle.
The same is true for spiritual warfare. Christians should unleash as much spiritual power against the forces of evil, the ways of the world, and the old man of sin within us as possible. He should be prepared to pound the enemies of life. Unfortunately, modern Christians are often ill equipped to put up even the weakest resistance. They haven’t been trained properly and when they come face to face with the enemy they either get “wacked” or don’t even recognize the enemy as the enemy. The Christian life is getting dangerously on par with secular life.
In a very real sense, however, the modern Church allows its congregations to dictate what they want to hear. If the recruits’ expectations are not met, they simply “jump ship” and go “church hopping” until they find a church willing to cater to their demands and perceived needs—and there are some willing to do just that.
You also have to stop and ask yourself what our seminary students are being taught these days. Church leaders seem less knowledgeable about what God’s people ought to know and be taught than their military counterparts do. At least the officers and NCOs know what recruits need in order to fight in a war and how to equip them to fight. There is a specific program in place to train the recruits to become effective soldiers.
The modern Church has often taken the opposite tack. For example, some churches pride themselves on asking the “recruit” what he or she would like and then proceed to give them spiritual pabulum for as long as they want it. You might not see the disintegration of proper preparation for the Christian life overnight, but in the long run this is a recipe for certain disaster. Given the current state of the Church, many of the signs of decay and impending disaster are clearly evident.
The difference between a military recruit and a new Christian is that the latter should have some concept of both who they are and whose they are. It’s not enough to have prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” although that’s a good start. Young and older Christians need to be warned that because of their commitment to Christ, they are about to enter into a ferocious, vicious, inevitable, spiritual battle of long duration. They need to have it explained to them that the local church, acting as a covenant community, will be the place where they will receive training at the various stages and levels of their spiritual development. We will not simply be there; we will be there for them.Won’t that be discouraging if we tell people that the spiritual struggle will not end in this life? It possibly will be, but it’s realistic and it’s important that God’s people deal with reality. Spiritual warfare and being a spiritual warrior is no walk in the park. It involves “fighting the good fight of faith” (Cf. 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7) and not being surprised when trials and suffering are part of life (1 Pet. 4:12).[8] As unpleasant as all of this might very well be, the alternatives are few. In the next chapter, we shall take some time to examine two more maladies in the modern Church: easy believism and cheap grace.
[1] Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 418. Italics—RG.
[2] The great southern General Robert E. Lee once wrote that, “duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” He was correct.
[3] Drill Instructors.
[4] Schaff, Creeds, 419-420.
[5] Absent Without Leave.
[6] Tom Clancy with Gen. Fred Franks, Jr. (Ret.), Into the Storm. A Study in Command, (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997), p. 18.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.


Blogger said...

Good post. What is the PCA's position on the RPW? You see so little Bible reading, prayer, etc. in the services, and more time given to "children's sermons," drama, vignette speaches by lay people, etc. Most seem to have moved toward doing 15-20 mins straight of "praise music" that is solely outside the flow of the service. I have noticed far better adherence to the RPW among Episcopelians and lutherans than Presbyterians in the PCA. It is hard- hard- to glorify God in this environment.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

What is RPW? I would refer you to our worship service ( & click on worship bulletin. We read Scripture twice, have a public & private confession of sin, a long pastoral prayer, we recite the WSC, & I preach for about 40 minutes. I hope to have some MP3 stuff up soon. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Rattlesnake 6

5:12 PM  
Blogger said...

Was referring to the regulative principle of worship, which doesn't seem to be followed in many PCA churches.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Got it. Sadly, I think that you're correct. I am consciously PCA but struggle with how non-PCA many of my colleagues are. Fortunately, there are still some great guys in the PCA like Ligon Duncan, Phil Ryken, Derek Thomas, Carl Robbins, Duncan Rankin, & others.
Our church planting record is horrid. I'm convinced that we need to lay our cards on the table and let everyone know who we are and let God be in control. I truly like being a Presbo and that's why I am where I am.
Rattlesnake 6

4:49 PM  
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4:30 PM  

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