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Home Church Planting/Missional A Pastor’s Confession of Heavy Shepherding God’s People

A Pastor’s Confession of Heavy Shepherding God’s People

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A Pastor’s Confession of Heavy Shepherding
God’s People

It is important as I begin this paper that my motive be understood. My intention is not
to prove anyone right or wrong on his or her beliefs, with respect to the substance of
this document. The reason for writing is to explain the wrestling of my soul, which I
experienced while living among a small group of people who interpreted and
practiced the Bible in a very defined fashion. I sought to interpret the Scriptures and
live them out in the same way that some, not all, of this group did.
My story begins in the spring of I986, though the struggles had their beginnings in
the early I980's when I participated with other preachers at a Bible Conference. But
in I986, I became convinced that the religion, which I had been involved with, was in
some significant way defective. I had many questions, but was afraid to voice them.
When I could no longer find satisfaction for myself in this religion, I retired somewhat
from the 'Universal' scene and poured my life into our church and Christian school.
Secondly, I returned to my books and my study, to think through the things that were
troubling me. This I did in the privacy of my mind. I read much in Spurgeon, Murray,
Owen, Ferguson, Van Til, Brown, Bridges, and in general, the Reformed authors on
my shelf. The questions I asked myself were many; and what follows are some of
those questions and the conclusions I came to.

Questions:

Had not the Lordship of Christ been improperly emphasized for salvation while
downplaying (perhaps unconsciously) Jesus as Personal Savior? I can still hear the
'snarl' of some whom again and again disclaimed against 'this little pitiful personal
Savior'. I asked, is Jesus Christ a personal savior or is He an impersonal savior? The
message presented to me, which stuck in my mind, was 'bow, bow, bow down -- if
you don't bow, lie will tear you in pieces'. I wondered, do these declamatory
expressions (and hundreds like them) really convey the mind of Jesus with respect
to his yoke as taught in Matt. 11:28-30 ? I thought, is not the King's heart 'meek and
lowly' I was well aware of Psalm 50:22 , but where was the balance?
Was not the doctrine of repentance preached far too many times in isolation from the
doctrine of justification by faith (Acts 5:30-3 I)? Was the fruit of repentance pressed
on the conscience while dangerously minimizing the soil from which all spiritual fruit
comes, i.e. the Cross of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the Intercessions of Christ? I
asked, why was John Colquhoun's book on Repentance repudiated? Colqtihoun
taught some salient truths regarding the relationship of justistification to repentance. I
failed to see the book's tendency to 'antinomianism' as I was told. Nevertheless, the
book was taboo. I wondered why.

Could there be, I asked, an emphasis on 'holy living' which did not grasp the
motivational power and spiritual impetus necessary for cultivating such holiness,
namely, the blood of Christ? (I Peter I:I3-2I) I had read John Brownts expositions of
these verses and was amazed at the 'Christ-centered emphasis' of his exposition on
'Be ye holy for I am holy' (I Peter I:I7).

Could the essence or true piety' i.e. the fear of God, lead to 'bondage again unto
fear' if detached from its biblical collateral's? i.e. the love of God (I John 4: I7-I9); the
Spirit of adoption (Romans 8: I5-I7), faith and trust in God filial fear (Psalms 2I:I9;
115:11 and Hebrews 5:7 ); joy in the Lord (Psalms 2:11 and 27:I-3); and such fear as
is opposed to pride and self-confidence (Romans 11:20 ). l asked, what is the
relationship between 'soberness in God's presence and great Christian joy (Isaiah
35)?

Were 'somber looks', piercing eyes and a sober tone of voice the biological
expressions of a mental experience of reverence for God (Matthew 6: I6)? Could one
be spontaneous, bubbly and friendly and still know the fear of God? John Gill on The
Fear of God' in his “Body of Divinity proved to be very helpful to me.
Was it possible to put such an emphasis on the 'law as the moral standard of
righteousness' and its minute application to life (the ways to fall short of or violate a
commandment according to the Westminster Larger Catechism) that one could fail to
expound the law in the hands of Christ as Paul did? (Romans 8: I-4) I wondered if the
failure to preach the law as Paul did could lead to Legalism in the heart while the
head grasped 'salvation by Christ's work alone' leaving one 'lovingly hard-hearted'.
These things were troublesome to me. Many sermons by C.H.Spurgeon were helpful
on this crucial theological point, especially his sermons on I John.

Could there be, I wondered, such a passionate revival for preaching that there might
develop an incipient passivity among Christians and a slow steady erosion of the
doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and the believer's privileges to serve Christ
in a variety of ways? A recent article 'The Priesthood of All Believers and the Quest
for Theological Integrity', by Timothy George has been very helpful. Was the revival on
the art of preaching, and the way saints should hear preaching,
discouraging humble, independent thinking regarding God's word?

Was there not to be expressions or church life beyond the hearing of sermons? I was
sure that I saw in the Bible over 50 uses of the word 'koinonia', and its cognate family
of words, which seemed to indicate that there was a life which the people of God
were to share beyond the limited scope of sitting beside each other in a pew on
Sunday and hearing expository preaching. The scripture teaches that much of the
life of the body, the Church, was to come to practical expression in 'body-life'. The
Church, it appeared to me from reading the Bible, was a family, a spiritual
commonwealth, and a holy sanctuary. Were not these and other descriptions of
God's people to have 'concrete expression' during the week? Dr. William
Hendrickson's exposition of Ephesians 2 and 4 proved to be very useful in clearing
my mind on a number of these issues, especially his studies on Eph. 4: II-I6 and 2:II-
2I.

I asked myself, is one really preaching the foundational doctrine of Christianity, i.e.
'Justification by Faith', if one preaches the law as preparatory for it (this should never
be done) and then skips to the 'demands of justification by faith' while failing to
explain the biblical words that illuminate this doctrine to souls? Where was the preeminence
of words like 'imputation, precious blood, faith, love, and grace' in relation
to sin, guilt, and condemnation? Should not these words or their ideas be more
central in each sermon?

Dr. M.L. Jones on Romans 3: 2I-3I was exceedingly helpful. Also helpful along this
line was his masterful treatment of Romans 5:1-11 . Unfortunately, in some
situations, all the Doctor's books have been removed from the bookshelves.
I
asked, where was instruction on the doctrine of adoption, the fruit of the Spirit, the
enormous truth of Christian love (a prominent motif in Paul's letters), local church
evangelism, winning a sinner to Jesus, etc? Why were these truths so often missing
and what was this void doing to the precious sheep of Christ?
Also, I began to question if some others and I were not, unconsciously, tending to a
type or second century Monarchialism (whether by one man or by a plurality of
monarchs called a 'plurality of elders'). How did this tendency fit with the pattern of
historic Baptist church government?
I
questioned my past tutoring on the place of the eldership in the life or the people.
Preachers made so many statements on what to do, how to do it, and how far to go
in people's lives. These statements had shaped my ministry, and I wondered have I
gone too far into people's lives? I listened to tapes and lectures telling me, no, I had
not. Now I know that they and I were and are incorrect.

Then I began to hear of divisions among leaders, and my confusion increased. I
wondered why? It seemed that certain articles in our denominational magazine were
replete with 'hidden meanings'. Soon after I received a call from one of these leaders
saying, 'Don't follow that leader, follow this other leader.' The posturing for sides and
the gossip vine among preachers was active and is still so today. Having
experienced a difficult church split in the early '80's, I found little comfort in hearing
that 'splits' were becoming normative among s. I questioned if this 'rejoicing in evil'
was right. Nevertheless, it seemed to be necessary as a 'badge of loyalty' to the
truth. Then I began to question whether we were as near to the lord as we thought.
Were we really the pure among the not so pure, the holy among the dispensationally
unholy and the covenantal unholy? Were the non-reformed, bought by, the blood of
Christ, to be the exclusive (almost) object of our evangelism? Was it a Bible
command to woo and win, by whatever means, others to the 'real group' of
Christians, while the multitudes perished?
I
wondered at the counsel often given regarding how to solve church problems. The
approach recommended was: 'Wait and get the goods on such and such elder' or 'do
a little holy snooping' or 'send out feelers' (i.e. other church members) and 'keep
close tabs on him' (usually a brother in Christ), or 'compile a portfolio on his
character' -- instead of following Matthew I8's demand, which requires immediate
'face to face' loving and humble communication. Why were climates of 'evil
suspicion,' methods of 'divide and conquer' and 'a mind set of friends and enemies
'among Christians’? It seemed at times there was a kind of 'hit list'. Could this really
be happening, I wondered?

I wondered about what seemed a 'heresy hunting' phobia developing among
preachers which created a climate of suspicion toward books and sermons, which, if
not recommended by the 'experts', was hidden from the masses. This often was
reflected in an exclusive selection of literature by a few theological minds. It seemed
to me that much profitable literature on a variety of subjects was denied to God's
people.

I began to ask whether or not all youth group activities were or the nature of
'idolatrous youthism', as I had been taught. Are these things really of the essence of
what grieves the Holy Spirit? Are choirs, films, choir robes, fake beams rather than
real beams, using the organ rather than the piano, refraining from the Amen rather
than saying Amen, women wearing slacks to church instead of dresses or skins,
young people sitting in church with each other rather than with their parents, singing
some relatively modern hymns or older hymns (pp 700 ff. in Trinity hymnal) or things
like these, really grieving to the Holy Spirit and a flagrant violation of the regulative
principle?

Must children memorize the Catechism, while swinging on the Sabbath Day? Must
children on the Sabbath be limited to riding their bikes around the block one time but
not twice? May Christian children not play with non-Christian children?

I asked myself was cooperation with any biblically organized mission service an
indication of a 'dangerous departure from local church authority' and the 'seeds of
denominationalism'?

Was there only one biblical way to set up a Christian school, structure? A
conference, have a prayer meeting, organize a church, provide a theological
Education, reach the community and world with the gospel, order a worship service,
preach A sermon, elect officers, relate to disaffected people, dress, practice dietary
laws, and sing from Hymn books, take up the offering, outline a sermon, deliver a
sermon, etc.?

These questions and many others began to bother me to the extent that beginning in
the summer of I987; I took several trips away from my ordinary labours in order to
pray and find answers. As I read and prayed, I came to some very painful and
personal conclusions. These conclusions are mine, and mine alone. They are not
intended to imply that others may not have valid, though differing viewpoints.

My Conclusions…

1.Lying in the shadows of a predominant emphasis on the eldership, church
discipline, and a thorough purging and purifying of the local church was the Lamb
of (God, with his gentleness, His love, His forgiveness, Jesus’ compassion,
His tenderness and acceptance of His people, and his work on the cross. Years
ago I heard Him sarcastically referred to as 'this Jesus stuff, 'this big heavenly Santa
Claus', this 'sweet little Jesus, Jesus, Jesus'. A young man once said to me, 'After
being a for I0 years, I know who God is, but who is Jesus?'
The writer who helped me sort this out in my own thinking was Charles Bridges. His
section on the 'Scriptural Preaching of the Gospel,' pp 239-283, in “The Christian
Ministry” is excellent. A study of the book of Galatians was exceedingly helpful as
well; especially “Galatians” by J.R.Stott.

2. Lying in the shadows of a denial of the ‘carnal Christian heresy’, 'easybelievism',
'cheap grace' and 'conversion a rare and difficult thing' were the
precious biblical truths of simple faith in Christ, (II Cor. II:I-4), the Lord's longing to
save sinners (II Peter 3:9) and the freeness of the offer of Himself to all men (Matt.
II:28-30). After reading scores of Spurgeon's sermons, I knew my own heart had
been 'restricted' in love to Christ and offering him throughout tile entire sermon to the
lost. Spurgeons's sermon on I Cor 2:2 was significant in this regard, reshaping my
thinking rightly.

I felt the lack of these first two Conclusions in my own experience. The minimizing of
the Lamb of God explained why I became increasingly narrow in evangelistic
methodology and shamefully barren in my Concern for foreign missions. My lack in
these areas had little to-do with the debate concerning 'exclusive Local church
missiology vs. Cooperation in missions.' With the help of Bridges and Spurgeon --
change came, evangelistic endeavors were revived and a biblical and practical use
of a mission service was no longer a problem.

3. Lying in the shadows of bombastic, harsh, censorious, crude (at times),
verbose, sarcastic, badgering and intimidating preaching (often called 'pointed
and piercing applications to the Conscience), was the preaching manner and
demeanor of the preacher of preachers, Jesus Christ. The Comments of Dr. E.J.
Young, in his commentary on The Book of Isaiah, especially Isaiah 42: I-4 were
convicting with respect to my own preaching style. One does not necessarily need to
hit a high volume in order to have authority. In many ways I had to unlearn much of
what I saw in preaching style and start over. J.R.W. Stott's 'The Portrait of a
Preacher' was exceedingly helpful to me.

4. Lying in the shadows of a revival of the primacy of the eldership's
prerogatives, power and position was the glorious Reformation truth of 'the
priesthood of all believers,' the privileges of (Acts 2:42 ), and the legitimate place of
the gifts and talents of every believer in the body of Christ. John Owen's article on
'Mutual Duties in Church Fellowship', All fifteen of them, in Volume I3 of his works, is
illuminating. God's people have so much to offer each other and their pastors. It
should not be suppressed but rather unleashed.

5. Lying in the shadows of zeal for church purity and a zest for
churchmanship, a desire for the best translation and a new manicured Confession
of Faith was the need to look at 'the fields that are white unto harvest.' My heart was
richly blessed and convicted by an article written by John Murray, titled 'The Church
and Missions' (Volume I of his Collected Writings). I was convinced that I had an
adequate confession of faith (I689) and that the tremendous need of the hour was to
love sinners, go to sinners, and win them to Jesus.

6. Lying in the shadows of 'ministerial professionalism' and 'required austerity
for the enhancement of clerical dignity' were hundreds of hurting sheep who need to
lean on a under shepherd with the nearness and tenderness of the Chief
Shepherd. I Thes. 2:7-8, Rom. I:II - I2 and similar texts convinced me that
'remoteness and withdrawal' were not the way to practice the pastoral office. Again
J.R.W. Stott's 'The Portrait of the Preacher’ proved relevant to this issue.

7. Lying in the shadows of 'localistic Church missiology' (which seemed to me
to rationalize away the Great Commission and the spiritual needs of millions of
people) were multitudes 'beat down to the ground, like sheep without a shepherd.' I
studied the book, Five Pioneer Missionaries, and was also persuaded from Scripture
that the masses of humanity on earth could never be reached if cooperation among
churches for this task was not developed. God helped me to break the fears of
rejection by some, in order to see the indispensable value of cooperating with others
in this effort. The debate between Thornwell and Hodge was helpful; but Thornwell
was a Presbyterian. Hence many of his points did not persuade me of his position.

8. Lying in the shadows of suppressed saints, and depression among so many
of them were the uplifting, encouraging, victorious truths and experiences of union
with Christ and the Indwelling of the Spirit.

Also understanding the relationship of the imperative to the indicative mood in
passages relating to the sanctifying process helped to clarify this issue. Looking at
Col. I:I-5, Rom 8: I-I3, and Heb I2:I-2: A study of the Greek participles and verbs in
these passages was helpful to me. Also, the great truth of 'adoption' brought such
peace to my heart. Who helped? Sinclair Ferguson with Children of the Living God,
J.I.Packer and his Knowing God, in the chapter on Sons of God. the truth of
adoption more than any other, highlights for me the distinction between the religion I
had known, where I was headed from the early I980's.

9. Lying in the shadows of 'ecclesiastical exclusivism' was the true church of
Christ in every denomination, on missionary boards and in secular and Christian
schools. One of the errors, which characterized my past religion, was that the fields
that were white unto harvest were not so much publicans and sinners, as fellow
Christians who had not arrived at 'theological nirvana'. Hence, dear Christians
became the subject matter of zealous efforts of the theologically elite.
The Lord in His kind providence put a book in my path years ago, which had a
tremendous effect on my life. The Memoir and Remains of R4M. McCheyne is a high
but human expression of the Christian ministry. An article is included in the book
titled 'Communion with Brethren of other Denominations'. His views were
revolutionary to my thinking.

I0. Lying in the shadows of cold holiness, stoical masculinity and legal
repentance were the biblical truths of Christian love, compassion, kindness, mercy,
longsuffering, forgiveness, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-3 ). Texts like Col 3: I2-I 3, I
Cor I3:4-Ba, Eph 4:32 , and 4:I-2, Phil 2: I-2 and I Peter 4:8-li, needed extensive
preaching and application to the life of the church; and the Beatitudes (Matt 5 )
needed exposition, elaboration and application as well. To my knowledge these
themes were seldom the subject matter of Bible conferences and often demeaned as
subjectivismI sentimentalism or emotional Christianity. Dr. William Hendricksen's
commentaries on these subjects became my solace and his expositions convinced
me that in my ministry and in the religion I was in these 'prominent biblical themes'
needed much more attention. In my opinion, Dr. Jay Adams' book on From Forgiven
to Forgiving needs serious consideration.

11. Lying in the shadows of great efforts to bring folks into the 'coveted camp'
(and this frequently done with a superior, super critical, judgmental and pharisaic
spirit) was the need for a gentle, mild and accepting approach toward those who
simply could not accept every theological tenant of a given system. The attitude of
'come up to where I am' seemed to violate other similar texts and I Cor I4. A host of
well knew, contemporary preachers of the Reformed faith became my example in
this regard. I listened to their tapes, read their books and discovered a world of
Christian demeanor, gentle manners, social tactfulness and Christian acceptance,
which rebuked me. These examples stirred a desire to make changes in my own
manner and attitude toward brethren who differed theologically.

I2. Lying in the shadows of a consecrated effort to revive 'ministerial training'
for the purpose of developing pastors was a growing list of confused young men,
who remained so, unless finally corralled into the security of conformity and
uniformity. I thought back through the years of an almost endless of former friends
who did not make die grade and were often terrified, scandalized, and brutalized out
of the pursuit of the Christian ministry. Again, I fled to Spurgeon's Lectures to my
Students and Bridges' The Christian Ministry and other books to rearrange my
thinking on the Christian ministry.

My quest for answers and my pursuit of 'normal Christianity' came to a climax when I
listened to 3 lectures on the Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy, given
by Sinclair Ferguson in the early 80's at a Banner of Truth Conference at Calvin
College. I listened again and again to these tapes. I now knew what my wrestling
was about. These tapes set me free to see the dangerous entanglements and 'subtle
error' in my heart and the 'unbalanced theology' given to me a quarter century ago.
For they exposed the error of 'conditional grace' and the crippling legalism that
inevitably results. And that is exactly where we had ended up 'at the end of the day.'
When these conclusions began to settle into convictions, I knew I had to make some
difficult decisions and choices. It occurred to me that I would experience 'character
assassination", that my family may suffer greatly, and that the sprit of the religion I
was associated with would become activated and respond, and that the legitimacy of
my calling to the ministry would be renounced (I did not know, however, how this
would be arranged. Now, of course, I do!) I had sinned just enough, and made just
enough changes and mistakes that when the birds come looking for worms, some
could be found. I also knew that there would be plans and back-up plans until the
final demolition work was done. (This is the way it's done.) I expect that every effort
will be made to destroy, defame, disaffect, damage and debilitate my family, the
Church of Christ here and my ministry. To my family, and me these procedures are
clearly understood, as there is a 'necessity' built into the psyche of this religion. This
'necessity', we understand, will be pursued.

However, what a comfort it is to be cared for by the blessed Comforter. I am grateful
for many of my sheep and friends who were able to make the changes and begin to
live in the fullness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Very gradually, Bette and I and my four
children are recovering. The Lord Jesus is more precious each day and the truths of
God's Word, which He has taught us, is sustaining, encouraging and delivering us.

My first admission:
One of the outgrowths of my former way of thinking was the handling of one church
situation, which has caused me great grief, and for a period of time, incalculable grief
to a former family of the church.

When I began to see the various unbiblical, and legalistic approaches to church
discipline used in my approach to this family, I took action to remedy the injustice
and violated love. I spoke to the children, seeking to correct the wrong doing and
asked each of them for their forgiveness and tried to set an example, which would
demonstrate the principles in Scripture governing family relations. I also called the
parents of these children and explained my erroneous and unbiblical behaviour and
asked for and received their forgiveness.

To the extent that anyone has seen this wrongdoing, shared in the family's grief, and
rejected the mishandling of them, I sincerely ask your forgiveness.

My second admission:
When I first became a Christian I was introduced to a style of preaching which
seemed to be acceptable among a large number of ministers and churches. It
seemed acceptable to use the strongest, declamatory expressions, sarcastic
analysis, bullet-like jabs and mocking descriptions of those whose sin or viewpoint
was being rejected. Not infrequently, vilifying words were used as shock treatment to
alarm people, wake up the sleepy saints in Zion, or pierce the conscience with
pointed application. Given my personality and remaining sin, I quickly plugged into
this mode and was unable to throw it off until the last few years of my ministry, and
that not with I00% success. I deeply regret using words that were overly descriptive
of sin, or mocked other Arminian Christians, or were overly loud and too personal. I
honestly thought that this was the way to preach. This was not the exclusive manner
of my presentation, but it was present.

My choice of words was not always the best. However, I am grateful for my books on
preaching and a larger variety of preaching styles, which I forced myself to observe
in the past few years. I deeply regret that my 'preaching speech' was not always
seasoned with grace.

As a result of this style of preaching, it is clear to me that some people, perhaps some
more than others, felt intimidated, and suppressed. I deeply regret that any had this
experience. I am thankful for many who have testified that my ministry is freed from
these elements now.

My third admission:
During the last five years I have participated in far too many long or miniconversations
with preachers, where judgmental statements without facts were used.
I often heard preachers rape the character of other preachers and people in a
general climate of I Cor I carnality. I am grateful for the Lord's forgiveness and the
forgiveness of some preachers concerning what was 'sinfully spoken'.

My fourth admission:
There are some ways in which I did not handle these struggles well with brethren
with whom I had and now have theological and ecclesiastical differences. I am not
sure how I should have dealt with all my questions, given my circumstances; but I'm
sure better efforts could have been made. I hasten to add, however, that we have
not thrown out the confession. l and the Church are clearly committed to the
summary of faith expressed in the Baptist Confession of I689.

Conclusion:
What I have written, of course, is not everything that could characterize one's
ministry. I do believe I have left out a positive side, which in my judgment does not
need to be stated (the Lord knows) and is not pertinent to the purpose of this paper
It is clear to me and to the Church that our Father's presence and goodness is very
near us. Our Heavenly Father is answering prayer, preserving us, and gradually
rebuilding His Church.
The author’s name is withheld to protect the his good name, ministry and the honour
of Christ’s Church – The Editor

 

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