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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 09, 2006

A Spiritual Brotherhood of War

“In war, only what is simple can succeed.” Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg

Forming a Band of Spiritual Brothers
Some modern Christians are oblivious to the reality of the spiritual war and their call to be spiritual warriors. They will be a very difficult group to convince that proper training is indispensable. My greatest fear is that the spiritual battlefield will become strewn with their battered souls.
Others, unfortunately, are aware of the call but have abdicated their God-given responsibilities. A few, however,—right now it’s a precious few—are being brought to the realization of the severe nature of the conflict and are becoming prepared to take the necessary steps to become spiritual comrades with other male warriors. These men will learn what it means to wage this war with their Warrior Lord (Ex. 15:3) by their side (Jer. 20:11) and to be in the company of a “band of spiritual brothers.”
My unquenchable optimism lies in nothing of man, but in the goodness and the graciousness of God. It lies within the province and power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and minds. When the “mission” has been at its bleakest, the Spirit of the living God has brought about revival out of spiritual deadness. Moreover, Elijah had to be reminded by God that even though he was convinced that he was the only one “holding down the fort,” God had preserved for himself seven thousand who had not bowed their knees to Baal.

Being Taught the “Basics”
Basic Training is meant to be just that: a period of time where you learn indispensable fundamental aspects of soldiering. It isn’t meant to be the “last word” or even the end of your training. It’s merely a beginning—a good beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. What Basic does, is lay a foundation. The concepts taught in Basic are built upon and expanded the further the soldier develops. Having learned the rudiments of using a compass for land navigation in Basic Training, for example, the soldier learns refinements to what he has already been taught. Among profession soldiers, the training never stops. I was talking to my good friend, Richard, recently who was in Special Forces and he reminded me that he trained every day until he finally got out of the Army. In other words, training is not a “one shot” deal but an ever on going process.
In the modern Church, however, there are far too few periods of “Basic Spiritual Training” for the young Christian or new member.[1] There is a great deal of assumption in the Church today. We assume that our young covenant children are getting taught at home. We assume that prospective members know what we believe and why we believe it. We assume, we assume, we assume. All of us know, however, that the word, “assume” generally means, “makes an ass of you and me.”
Every local congregation ought to have a spiritually based Basic Training program in place for its young people and new members. Two of the best training programs I’ve used are the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism. Both of these catechisms provide a wealth of spiritual truth for the young and old alike. (As an aside, I’d just say that it wouldn’t hurt the other adults in the congregation to review both of these documents for themselves yearly.) These programs will do little more than impart the theory of the Christian faith, however, unless you find a biblically qualified teacher to guide the young people and new members through the practical application of what the catechisms teach. The purpose of spiritual Basic Training is not merely to impart knowledge, but also to describe how that knowledge is to be lived every day in a loving Christian manner.

Training the Youth
This is a discrepancy that some churches that are concerned to teach their young people omit. In certain traditions the young people attend formal catechism training during the week at the church. This is a good thing. What I discovered when I was teaching those classes was that the kids would memorize their “cat” about five minutes before class. They retained it just long enough to regurgitate it to me and then it was gone. They exemplified the vernacular definition of the word “jargon.” The catechism would “jar” them with some hard words and complex sentence syntax and it was “gon” before they knew it.
The way I discovered this deficiency was when I applied what we did in our home for devotions. After reading from the Bible, my wife and I would ask questions about how you would apply what we had just read in your life. Our kids learned to accept this as our SOP.[2] I came to realize, however, not every family was equally interested in practical application. Some of my “stellar” students, who always knew their catechism, looked at me with a mouth full of teeth when I told them I didn’t want them to spew it back to me but to tell me how they would apply it in “this” or “that” situation.
Our new start was rocky. The students complained and, ironically, so did some of the parents. I informed those parents that I was doing “spot” checks on the catechism every week. Those spot checks did not mean—as some of my “stellar studs” found out—that if I called on you this week that I wouldn’t call on you next week. They learned to expect the unexpected. I had one hour to teach them per week. We stuck to the catechism lesson but talked about drugs, movies, music, dating, and a wide variety of topics in association with the catechism lesson.
The armed forces and athletics employ this type of “situational” training. At the local high school where I volunteer as a wrestling coach, we’ll put our wrestlers on the mat and put them in a certain situation. For example, we might have the man on the bottom be behind by one point and the man in the top position with a “cross face” on his opponent. We tell them that the match ends in thirty seconds. The man on the bottom has to get out and the man on the top has to hold him down. Take all the training we’ve given you and put it into practice.
In the armed forces soldiers are drilled repeatedly on how to perform certain tasks. There are obstacle courses and confidence courses. Some situations require individual effort, but most are more geared towards teamwork. Either way, the emphasis is on a “hands on” approach to training. When you’re in battle, you don’t sit in your foxhole and theorize. There’s definitely theory involved in the planning, but the battle is the practical execution of the plan. Someone has to walk the men through the plan. Each local church needs to find someone who can teach the young people both the theory and the practice.
Our choice at our church is an Elder. First, one of the biblical qualifications for an Elder is that he must be apt to teach. Having a man with some life experience who has walked with the Lord for many years is a great advantage. The modern objection to such an approach is that the young people can’t relate to older people. Level three. That young people have not been exposed to older people is level one. Modern churches tend to segregate by age. Some churches even state in their “mission statement” that they are singling out an age group of say, eighteen to thirty. Now that would truly be an interesting church! Talk about the blind leading the blind!
Second, an Elder being, by definition, slightly past puberty, has more life experience. Yet, if he’s going to be involved in spiritual Basic Training, he’s got to have a heart for people. Teaching is far more than merely imparting knowledge. It includes the imparting knowledge, but exceeds the theoretical and moves into the practical as well.
But shouldn’t the young people have fun? you ask. Of course they should. Planning fun times and social encounters is an integral part of developing a sense of community. Soldiers get time off from the “rigors” of training. They get passes and leaves, but they come back to the task at hand. Youth programs today tend to be top heavy on fun and lean on solid teaching. If I had to choose, I’d flip it around. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. A well-planned spiritual Basic Training program will include doctrine, application, and fun.
What about the younger children, or as one of our Elders calls them, the “itty-bitty” kids? I don’t get payment or royalties for this, but Great Commission Publications puts out the best material I’ve ever seen for Sunday School curriculum. We’ve been using it at Grace Presbyterian Church in California for the six years of our existence and we’re more than pleased. It dovetails nicely with our catechism teaching and since there’s take-home material, it also serves as a great teaching tool for parents during the week.

Training New Members
Since I believe that our modern local congregations seem more concerned about building large churches, the individual training of prospective new members is also at a low ebb. In the first place, some congregations pride themselves on the fact that they don’t even have church membership. People come and go as they please. There is no supervision and care. These people are loose cannons out on their own. For some in the modern Church, the word “doctrine” is anathema. Therefore, they are not explicit in what their church teaches. Only the hopelessly naïve and gullible believe that doctrine doesn’t matter and that each and every church doesn’t have it.
If you really think Pentecostals don’t have very specific doctrine, try going there for a while without speaking in tongues. Attempt to explain to them why you believe the pre-tribulation rapture isn’t scriptural. I have a friend who was denied ordination in a particular denomination because he was not a Dispensationalist. Tell your Baptist pastor you want your infant baptized and see what happens. Apoplexy. Talk to one of us “Presbos” about free will and we grow hair on our teeth. My point is simply this: virtually every church is loaded with doctrine. In some congregations it’s explicit and in others it’s more or less hidden. You need to make the effort to time out what each church you’re thinking about attending and joining believes. The important matter is for you to determine what precisely you believe and then make your church choice based on those beliefs. Notice what I did not say. I did not say that your choice should be based on your feelings. The core of your decision should be your objective beliefs.
That’s why at Grace Presbyterian, our local congregation takes the time to “lay our cards on the table.” We have nothing to hide and we don’t want our members to be surprised by something we teach later on and say, “I never signed on for that!” Our new member training has several facets.
First, we spend time sitting down and eating a meal together. This way we get them “softened” up so that when we hammer them they don’t seem to mind quite so much. Just kidding. The mealtime is an opportunity to relax and be casual. Our talk is of a general nature. Typically, our groups are smaller and usually contain anywhere from five to ten people. Members of the congregation also attend the meal—especially the starving students—along with representatives from the Elders and Deacons.
Next, we walk the inquirers through what it is to be Presbyterian. Some have been in a Presbyterian church before, but we still want to ensure that we’re all on the “same page” since we do some things a little differently at Grace. We are careful to explain our positions and the advantages to the church and the individual of being in a Presbyterian system of church government. Throughout our time with these prospective members, we give ample opportunity for them to ask whatever questions they might have. Nothing is “taboo.”
Our following step is for our Elders to contact these members—our time frame is within one week—and talk to them again about the importance of church membership. They are reminded that they will be assigned to a “shepherding group” and that there will be supervision and loving oversight in their life. We’re not “spiritual police,” but we do have a certain responsibility regarding the well being of their soul. Therefore, we will tend the flock and train them for service in the Kingdom.
After our new members are received into the congregation, we encourage them to get involved in one of the adult Sunday School classes. For those coming from non-Presbyterian backgrounds, we suggest that they join the Foundations class taught by two younger men of the congregation that the Elders believe will eventually make good Elders. They are under the supervision of the Session and we sit in on their classes.
Before our new members can hold any office or teach, we want them to be in the congregation for one year. That way we can observe them and they can observe us. I’m smiling as I write this (you probably can’t see it though) because a person from a different denomination asked one of our members if we were a little bit cultic. Why was she asked that about our congregation? It’s because we actually have Elders with “shepherding groups.” Our Elders get to know their “lambs” and if one is missing for an extended period of time, they get a call or a personal visit. They are involved in the lives of those for whom they will have to give account. They’re not trying to snoop or play “spiritual policeman.” Being a member of a covenant community means that we are genuinely connected and care for one another. Isn’t it sad that in the modern Church that type of care and concern is suspected to be an omen that the local congregation is a cult? Ironically, when a church acts like a covenant community people want to know if it’s a cult. Did I mention that we serve a special Kool-Aid every Sunday?
It’s our desire that our new members know what they’re signing on for. We take membership seriously and we want our members to use their gifts and to receive the benefits of the gifts of others. Being a covenant community entails knowing one another more than casually. I know all the kids’ names as well as the adults’ names. When we have church functions all age groups are included.

Training the Congregation
Once a church member has gone through the Foundations class or has attended one of our other Sunday School classes there is still a great deal to learn. The spiritual training of the congregation must be on going (Eph. 4:12-14). Adult classes are aimed at training and equipping the spiritual warriors to be able to stand firm in the spiritual battle and to teach their children, if they have them. If a couple does not have children or their children are all grown, they still have a task to teach the other children in the congregation.
As with the younger members of the covenant community, the teaching of the adult members must include in-depth Bible studies coupled with exercises designed to teach practical application of spiritual truth. In all of this, the focus is the Bible. We don’t want to study the latest bestseller or self-help/improvement book. Our infallible guide and norm is Scripture.
The study is taught, led, or facilitated by an Elder or someone who has been examined by the Elders. All of our teachers must be examined. Why is that? It’s because we’re a cult! Seriously, it’s because we strive for uniformity in our teaching. What we aim at is augmenting what the various “families” are doing during the week. For the parents, our aim is to supplement what they’re teaching their children at home. In addition, we desire to provide them with material for their own spiritual growth and development.
Our program is designed to encourage and allow questions. Participants in the various classes may ask any question they want. Our lesson plans often include a section entitled, “discussion questions.” Doctrine alone is not enough. It must be applied in the crucible of life. The practical application of biblical doctrine is our constant aim. I had lunch recently with a younger member of my congregation. It was a very open and frank conversation about some of the sexual temptations males face. He related a particular temptation he had faced and succumbed to in a store. I probed and asked what kind of plan he had thought through regarding when he was in that type of situation. He didn’t have one. What could he have done? There are many possibilities. The most logical would have been to “beat feet” out of there. Barring that, he could have called a friend on his cell phone and let him friend walk him out of there. The point is that we should have definite SOPs for those types of circumstances.
Training and equipping the congregation extends beyond Sunday School or mid-week meetings to the preaching. What we aim at is a systematic expository proclamation from the Word of God. The series on a particular book of the Bible will be interrupted for special Church year preaching such as Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, Pentecost, and Ascension Sunday, just to mention a few of the most obvious ones. In addition, when an event such as 9/11/01 takes place, an appropriate sermon is preached.
Our goal is to train God’s people for worship in spirit and in truth and to equip them to be spiritual warriors. It is a thesis of this book that the “war” or “battle” motif is central to scriptural teaching. The Bible contains numerous references to those motifs. In the course of this book we shall have the opportunity to examine many of those motifs and how they apply to spiritual warfare and to the spiritual warrior. For the present, however, I merely mention it in passing to draw your attention to what will be more fully developed later.

Training the Elders & Deacons
It would be wrong to omit a section dealing with the training of those who will be training others. In a very real sense, the training of a church office bearer should begin at an early stage. Those who are mature in the faith should be praying about and looking for qualified young men in the congregation that possess traits of church leadership. I italicized the word “church” because one of the fallacies of church leadership is to assume that if a man is an effective CEO that he will also be an effective church leader. That can, indeed, be the case, but it’s not necessarily so.
A CEO might be used to barking orders to those under his management and might use that same technique with God’s people. He might be unbending and overly demanding. Patience is a virtue in general and certainly when we’re dealing with God’s people it’s patently true. I once knew a physician that had been in charge of a certain department in a hospital. What he said went. He was the unbending authority. The man was full of himself, self-absorbed, and had a very high regard of his own self-importance. He was an excellent physician but a dismal Elder.
A wise congregation will spend its time productively searching for young men that meet the biblical qualifications for Elder and Deacon. These young men should be approached and encouraged. In addition, when these young men are designated a plan should be in place to begin their preparation for service in the Church of Jesus Christ. It’s insufficient merely to designate them. Once you’ve accomplished that task, you need to train them. There are several matters that need to be taken into consideration once you’ve begun this process.
First, there should be a program in place to take them beyond the “basics” of the Christian faith and to grow them in doctrinal purity and knowledge. Titus 1:9 presents this type of training as double-edged sword. Here is what it teaches us. “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” The words “encourage” and “refute” are both connected to “sound doctrine.” Some churches tend either to forget this or to neglect it all together. One of the purposes of sound biblical doctrine is that we may encourage one another by it. You don’t hear many people talking that way in the modern Church, but it’s scripturally true. Refutation of error is the other edge of the sword. A church leader must be able to discern between truth and error, orthodoxy and heresy. In caring for the flock, he must be apt to refute that which stands in opposition to sound biblical doctrine.
Second, there should be a program of fellowship in place. This can take various forms, but must have as its guiding purposes the need for unity and fellowship among the Elders and Deacons and the concomitant need for unity, purity, and fellowship among the members of the local covenant community. Mealtimes are good opportunities to meet with your young men and talk with them about the duties and responsibilities of office bearers. At my home church, we’ve found that informal times are also very useful for discussing leadership. There’s something about a relaxed atmosphere that allows you to speak freely and openly. The more we move in this area, the more valuable I find it. My Elders and I watch movies together and everyone brings some kind of snack and refreshment. Some very fruitful discussions have issued forth from those informal meetings.
Third, you can do role-playing at your meetings. “Now wait just a minute!” you might say. Not that kind of role-playing! For someone who is reading such a serious book you certainly have a filthy mind! Get back on track! What I mean has to do with home visitation. Our Elders and members at Grace are divided into “shepherding groups” and each Elder is responsible for a number of our members. We visit them in their homes and have them into our homes. The purpose is not to play “spiritual policeman,” but to exercise spiritual oversight over the members in a biblically mandated fashion. (Cf. Heb. 13:7.)
Home visitation is a labor of love and not an attempt to pry into secrets. We visit the husband and wife and also encourage the children to be present. We talk with them about spiritual matters, read Scripture, and pray with them. In order for Elders to be equipped for this important task it needs to be introduced to them and they need to become accustomed to this important part of their calling.
Some Elders in the modern Church have never officially—as a church office bearer concerned with the souls of the members—visited people in the local congregation. Many are willing but they need to know how. Part of Basic and Advanced Training ought to focus on the “mechanics” of a home visit? What do you read? How long do you stay? What happens if you discover something unsavory? What do you say to them if they tell you they need to confide something in you but you must promise not to tell anyone else?
With the Deacons, if they’re doing their job, they are going to encounter people in the congregation whose finances are a wreck. These brothers, too, need to be trained in meeting with those members, reading Scripture, praying, and working out a feasible financial plan for them. This is a huge step for many and it’s complicated by the fact that they feel like intruders snooping around in someone else’s affairs. Office bearers in general must be taught about confidentiality and how to prioritize disclosures on a “need to know” basis. That is to say, if a Deacon discovers that a member has a significance amount of credit card debt, he should at least contact that member’s shepherding Elder and the pastor. Working together for the good of the church and the good of the member, we attempt to bring glory to the Lord in that situation. In addition, we work out a “plan of attack” to chip away at eliminating the debt. This takes a clear plan, time to execute the plan, and teamwork concerning all involved. With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the all-important notion of working as a team.
[1] A new member in your church might or might not be a new Christian. It’s possible, for example, that a new member was a member of another denomination for some time and has made a switch to, say, the Reformed position of God’s grace and sovereignty later in life. This person might have never heard of the concept of a covenant community or have the foggiest idea of being an integral and active member in such a congregation. He will, therefore, need to be trained.
[2] Standing Operating Procedure.

9 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

ACH! Ron, please! Can you change to a different visual display. White letters on a black background makes me dizzy. I have to copy and paste the text into Word to read. As a part-time web designer in my job, one of the first rules I learned is that the website has to be easy to read, or it will drive people away. White on black is about the most difficult to read (next to red on blue). In some cases it is ok, if the posts are short, but yours require extensive reading and that hurts the eyes.

I want to go over your post here on Church authority, because we work in that realm where I spend Sundays. We are an elder based fellowship, and have been operating for the last 30 years. We are in the 2nd generation of elders. That is something you need to address: the issue of moving to the next generation. I sense you are coming from the "pastor-based" formula, so your view might be different. Perhaps someone in a traditional church just changes pastors (hires a new one) and the issue is settled. But, in our fellowship, it gets complicated, because none of us are hired, and we are elders for life, or until we are taken out of the way by sin, sickness, family disasters, new visions, or (I would hope) God's calling us to different ministries.

Please, please..blogger offers some interesting formats. Try something easy to read. Does this remind you of the inside a a tank, or something? Just kidding.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Gunner! SABOT! Moving tank! Ok, ok. I'm teachable. What combo would you recommend and how do I change it? See what you started! Rattlesnake 6

3:17 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Oh, what a relief it is! Much better.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I like this template Ron. I think it suits your subject matter as well as being easier to read.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Ich bin aufgeklaert! Thanks guys! Have a blessed Sunday
Rs6

8:10 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

I have to chuckle a bit, RS6..at the shepherding aspect. I am sure you remember the "shepherding movement" begun by charismatics Bob Mumford, the late Derek Prince etc. Thankfully, Mumford realized the error eventually as did some others. These people probably heard of that controversy and mistakenly assumed you were doing the same thing.

Somehow I just can't imagine you making your congregants get your permission to buy a car or have children. (smile)

2:04 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

And to the others here...I prefer white and black. I tend to like the dark look. Fits my sense of humor to a tee. I can see it just fine..even with glasses. (smile)

Of course, my own blog site is black and white, so perhaps I am prejudiced.

Hmm. Perhaps I should rethink that last sentence lest I am misconstrued.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

If you would like more proof that your theology is on target, Google "Pretrib Rapture Diehards." It's all about the sordid and bizarre history (recently uncovered) of the any-moment pretribulation rapture view. Interesting, Grant Jeffrey wrote not long ago that many have been abandoning pretrib lately largely because of these newly emerging facts! Lord bless you all. Louise

3:31 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

For what it's worth, I never was a pretrib, but thanks for the comments. It's good to know that your theology is biblical. Thanks for dropping by, Louise. God bless,
Rattlesnake 6

5:28 PM  

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