The Urgency and Cost of Discipleship (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.



PART VI – Tying It All Together

Lesson Fourteen: The Urgency and Cost of Discipleship

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:26-27).


When calling sinners into discipleship with Christ two concerns must be held in tension with one another. We must understand that the call to discipleship is both urgent and costly. New disciples must understand both that the general call to repent and believe is not something to be considered at their leisure and that discipleship, though a joy-filled endeavor, will also mean hardship, pain, and persecution.

The urgency of discipleship. In His earthly ministry, Christ taught on both of these matters. Regarding the urgency of discipleship, He warned men not to presume upon God and, thus, squander the time they had been given on this earth. Man does not often think of his time as being squandered. We have a knack for keeping ourselves busy with stuff. However, Christ would have us to understand that busyness is not in itself virtuous. Consider the man who squanders his life on greed.

15Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ 16And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God,’” (Luke 12:15-21; NASB).

Man, in considering the gospel, often thinks of it as something to which he will attend one day. It’s another piece of junk mail to be added to the pile. A pre-approved line of credit he can always reconsider at a later date. Right now, there are more pressing matters that need my attention. Jesus says that God will say to such men, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”

God is patient and merciful, but we are never to presume upon His patience and mercy. We are not to presume that we are owed our next breath because, in presuming, many have fallen headlong into their eternal damnation. Instead, like a man who is going into battle or running a race, we are told to lay aside all that encumbers us and launch into action. Delay, even for the moment, could mean an eternity of destruction. This very night, our soul could be required of us!

Hearers must be careful not to say, as many did on Mars Hill, “We shall hear you again concerning this,” (Acts 17:32b; NASB), presupposing they will have opportunity to yet again hear and respond to the gospel. Tomorrow is promised to no man. We are not merely commanded to have soft, receptive hearts ready to receive the implanted seed of the gospel. We are commanded to do so today!

7For He is our God,

And we are the people of His pasture,

And the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you will hear His voice:

8Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion,

As in the day of trial in the wilderness,” (Ps. 95:7-8; NKJV).

Procrastination in the matter of repentance and faith is not merely foolish, though. It is also sinful. Because the one who procrastinates presumes upon the patience and mercy of God, that one stands guilty of the sin of presumption. When tempted to put off Christian discipleship, the hearer must pray along with the psalmist, “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression,” (Ps. 19:13; NASB).

The cost of discipleship. Yet, we must keep in mind that Christian discipleship is not a foolhardy endeavor. While we are not to hesitate in turning from sin toward God in faith, the path we choose in that moment will not be easy. Christian discipleship is costly, and that cost must be weighed. No man, woman, or child should be asked to ‘sign on the dotted line’ without at least a certain level of understanding that his or her gaining of Christ might mean losing all else.

Christ does not call us to abandon a few of our more valuable possessions in order to follow Him. If there is anything in this life we are not willing to forsake in order to gain Christ, we will by no means gain Him. “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:33; NKJV). Many of us tend to think of this forsaking as a forsaking of those things we already hold somewhat loosely. Christ does not mince words, though. In this teaching, He begins with the most difficult bonds to sever:

26If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” (Lk. 14:26-27).

Notice the exhaustiveness of this commitment. Christ uses the term anyone to describe the group of people who would come to Him as disciples. He does not say that a certain select group in far away lands need to be ready to give up everything to follow Him. He says instead that anyone who follows Him must prepare himself in this way. Christian discipleship means being prepared to lose everything and everyone you hold dear. If you value anyone higher than Christ, you do not value Him as you must. You cannot be His disciple. Period.

Well, you know, I could give up my mother-in-law. She’s painful to be around anyway. No! Who do you value most? If you are to be Christ’s disciple, you must be ready to forsake even that relationship in order to be faithful to Him. You must value Him higher than your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children and, yes, even your spouse.

It is as though you were dead and at the bottom of the ocean with all of this life’s cares pulling you down. Having heard the gospel, you have been revived. A true disciple of Christ, in order to reach the surface and be brought onboard the lifeboat will shed all that encumbers. He or she will be willing to sever all bonds that weigh them down and keep them from Christ. Is your spouse more lovely to you than Christ? Do your parents have more authority in your life than the word of God and the leading of the Spirit? Do you idolize your children? These are all bonds that can potentially be used to drag you down to the abyss.

Few Christians are required, at the moment of conversion, to sever such bonds. Sadly, we have some among us who were. We are not commanded in Scripture to abandon our unbelieving family members at the moment of conversion. Instead, what we are expected to do is to hold loosely to those earthly bonds in comparison to Christ. There is an order of priority here. Men and women are commanded, when they wed, to leave their mother and father in order to cleave to their spouses. This does not mean that the parents are no longer important in the lives of the young couple in question. What it does mean is that the marriage now takes precedence over any concerns of the extended family. The extended family is to be loosely held.

The church is wedded to Christ. We are Christ’s bride, and so we are to hold loosely to all other bonds on this earth. Our love for Christ is to be so much greater than our love for others that our love for all others might be said to resemble hatred.

Not only are we to hold loosely to earthly relationships; we are also called to hold loosely to our own lives. This is where people misinterpret the command to carry our cross. Periodically, you might hear people say, “It’s just my cross to bear,” by which they might mean some infirmity, some difficult person, or a financial hardship. When Jesus spoke of bearing our cross, He did not mean dealing with difficult circumstances or people. He meant that we are to die to ourselves.

The cross is not a symbol of burden or hardship. The cross is a symbol of execution. When Christ says in Luke 14:27, that His disciple must “bear his cross and come after Me,” He means to say precisely what He said in the previous verse. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate. . . his own life also, he cannot be My disciple,” (vs. 26). Christ’s disciples are merely those who hold loosely to others. We are also those who hold loosely to ourselves. We are those who confess with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Phil. 1:21; NASB). This is the cost of discipleship. Christ purchased it for us. Now, we are called to walk in it. Our Master was hated. He was persecuted. Should we expect less? Certainly not.

There is yet another promise, though. Surely, we have been promised that many will loose their possessions, their loved ones, and perhaps even their own lives for the sake of Christ and His gospel. We have not only been promised that such would be the case, but that we will receive one hundred-fold in this life, along with persecutions.

28Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life,’” (Mk. 10:28-30; NASB).

Sure there will be a great cost to Christian discipleship but, when the church is being the church in one another’s lives, there is also great benefit. We may lose shelter, but the church will ensure that we have a place to stay. Our families may abandon us or, for the sake of gospel ministry, we may have to leave our families, but the church will be our brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. We may loose our livelihood and have concern for whether or not we will eat or be able to feed our children, but the church will not let us go hungry. Discipleship requires a great price, but it comes with a great reward, yes, even in this life!

If, then, we are going to be calling people to this urgent, costly discipleship, let us also have a sense of urgency to be the church in their lives. Whatever or whoever they are called to forsake for the sake of Christ and His gospel, let us be ready to meet that need a hundredfold. In this sense, also, evangelism must be seen as a corporate effort.

The Recipients of the Gospel (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.




Lesson Five: The Recipients of the Gospel

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).


In the world. When Christians in the West consider the work of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of outreach and church growth. As such, the primary focus is often placed upon getting youth and young adults through the doors of the church. We think of the man-on-the-street style of evangelism that most of us have seen on YouTube and other places. We think of knocking on doors, asking our waiters and waitresses how we might pray for them and leaving them a gospel tract with their tip, and having smoke break, coffee break, and water cooler conversations at work. In other words, our focus in much of our talk of evangelism is outward focused.

Today, I’d like to make the argument that evangelism rightly understood ought to be focused both outside the walls of the church and inside them. First, let us consider those outside the church. These are the most obvious recipients of our evangelistic efforts. It is most clearly modeled for us by the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. We see not long after Pentecost and the gospel being brought to the Jews that it was soon brought to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1,4-25) and the Gentiles as well (Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10:9-48). This expansion of the kingdom of God beyond the borders of Judea was in keeping with Christ’s words:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come,” (Mt. 24:14; NASB).


“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations,” (Mk. 13:10; NASB).

As Gentiles living in a predominantly Gentile nation, we must recognize that our mere presence in this land is a fulfillment of Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the nations. When we leave our gatherings on the Lord’s Day and go into our homes, the marketplace, and our workplaces, we are going into the kingdom of man. We are entering the nations and bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. We are on mission, witnesses of Christ Jesus in our own context.

We see this idea expressed in Luke’s account of the Great Commission. Matthew is not the only apostle to have recorded the Great Commission for us. In Luke’s account, we see a bit more of Christ’s intent for the gospel. In Matthew’s account, Matthew highlights Christ’s command that we go into all nations in order to make disciples. In Luke’s account in Acts, we get a little more specificity.

7He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,’” (Acts 1:7-8; NASB).

The church was commissioned not merely to go into every nation, but into “even the remotest part of the earth” in order to make disciples. We see in some denominations today a push to plant churches only in urban centers like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, etc. Jesus did not only command that the gospel penetrate the urban centers of the nations in which we sojourn, but that it should be taken even to the remote pioneer locations like West Texas, rural China, the mountains of Chile, and even to tribes whose languages we’ve yet to learn.

Christ taught not to forbid even little children from coming to Him. He likened forbidding a child from coming to Him to forbidding every citizen of His kingdom from doing so, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it,” (Mark 10:15; NKJV). All who come to Christ are to believe in Him and trust in Him just like a little child. This is one reason we should not be opposed to properly ordered children’s ministries, like catechism classes, as are some in the church. We must labor to minister the gospel to the children in our midst. This is also why fathers and mothers must preach the gospel to and catechize their children. Do you have children at home? There should be no space in your home where the gospel is not being preached.

Are you the only true Christian, or one of only a few true Christians, in your workplace? You have an opportunity there to help your coworkers to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives and to, Lord-willing, be used of Him to make disciples in that very particular context. What other contexts might lend themselves to the making of disciples? Local political organizations, college classes, sports teams, scout troops, home school communities, etc. For our context, these are our “remotest parts.” Should the gospel have no representation in them? Should these be considered “safe spaces” from our witness to Christ?

In our midst. Certainly, we are called to make disciples of those who are outside of the church. Our gospel ministry does not stop there, though. We are also called to minister the gospel in our midst. Consider the words of Paul as he instructed the church at Corinth on the topic of Christian liberty.

19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you,” (1Cor. 9:19-23; NKJV).

Paul did not merely assume that all of his readers, by virtue of the fact that they were members of a local church, were necessarily saved. This is a common mistake we often make in Reformed churches today. We just assume that everyone is already a believer merely because they profess to be so. On the contrary, Paul encouraged the church at Corinth: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV). He didn’t just assume that they must necessarily be in the faith.

This is the reason why he wrote three entire chapters on the church’s use of Christian liberty. We are to practice our liberty in Christ with joy and liberality, but also with love toward our weaker brothers. If by our lack of caution and concern for our weaker brothers we cause them to stumble, we might also by the same act prove that we were never truly saved. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:27; NKJV). Therefore, all of us—teachers and disciples—are called to self-examination. We’re all called to make our calling and election sure.

Knowing that many within the church may not truly be saved, it is incumbent upon the church to minister the gospel on a regular basis. This is also why weekly attendance to the preached word is also important. As we sit under the preached word, we get more and more of a full picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of the main reasons why I am no longer convinced that we must have a cookie-cutter, five-minute gospel presentation that we preach every time we talk to our lost friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Our job is to make disciples (learners), not converts. Whether someone is yet saved or not, if they are regularly sitting under the preaching of Christ, there is a very real, practical sense in which they are disciples. As these disciples sit and add weekly to their understanding of the gospel of Christ, they are also weekly subjecting themselves to the power of God unto salvation.

It’s not just the lost, though, who need to hear the gospel on a regular basis. We each need to be regularly reminded of the law of God, the gospel of Christ, and our need for continued repentance and belief in Him. So the weekly reinforcement of the gospel through the preaching of the word is not just for the benefit of the lost. It is also for the benefit of the saints. Consider the fact that Paul himself calls the Roman church saints (Romans 1:7). It was only a few short sentences later that he tells them that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” (Rom. 1:15; NASB).

Was this because he thought them not to be saved? Surely, based on what we’ve already observed from his letters to the Corinthians, he knew that not all of them were necessarily saved. That was not his primary concern, though. Paul recognized the duel effect of the gospel when preached in the assembly. For the lost, it is the power of God unto regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God. For the saints, though, it is the power of God unto sanctification, edification, admonition, and preservation. In both cases, it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

Also, where the gospel is not regularly preached in the midst of the saints, there is a great danger of a false gospel creeping in. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. He assumed that there were faithful ministers still preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, though there were some who were already trying to still them away with a false gospel.

8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8-9; NKJV).

Let us be careful, then, to preach the gospel to all. Whether we are in the church or outside of the church, whether we are talking to a professing Christian or a raging atheist, let us ever have the gospel of Jesus Christ on our lips. Preaching the gospel to all people in all places, then, we will by exhausting all means at our disposal save some.

Teaching Obedience to Christ’s Commands (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.





Lesson Three: Teaching Obedience to Christ’s Commands

 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you [a]always, even to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:20; NASB).


Defining a disciple. What is it to be a disciple. Discipleship means learning. That’s what the term in the Greek means: “to learn.” Christian disciples are first and foremost disciples of Christ. They will have to answer directly to Him on the day of judgment. However, they will not be the only ones answering for their souls. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews was very clear that teachers, too, will have to give an account for every soul they have been commissioned to teach.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you,” (Hebrews 13:17; NASB).

This was the practice of the early church. They gave themselves regularly to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). Teaching was so paramount in the early church that the apostles even requested that men be set aside from the church to aid in the administrative matters of the church so that they could more fervently devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-5). This is a vital role within the church. Deacons are necessary for the freeing up of elders for prayer and the ministry of the word, and as the word is preached, new disciples find their place in the economy of Christ as true, teachable disciples.

When Christ makes disciples, He does not leave them as orphans. Rather, He gives them the Holy Spirit as a Helper, a Comforter, and an Advocate. When Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, He sent the Spirit to us to guide us into all truth (John 14:16-26; 16:5-15). This same Spirit gives gifts to the church that are necessary for her unity in the faith (Romans 12:3-8).

Christ told His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed that it was for their benefit that He go. Why? In the giving of His Spirit, He was also giving godly men to the church for their preservation in the unity of the faith. He was giving them, and all subsequent teachers, to the church for her edification, refreshment, admonition, exhortation, and sanctification. The Spirit of God does His work primarily through the teaching ministry of the church.

7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says,

‘When He ascended on high,

He led captive a host of captives,

And He gave gifts to men.’

9(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:7-13; NASB).

If a disciple is one who learns, then what is a disciple of Christ? What kind of disciples are we to be seeking to “make”? A disciple of Christ is one who submits to the teachings of Christ in His present teaching ministry, and Christ presently teaches through the teachers He has given the church through the Spirit.

What are disciples to be taught? Disciples are those who are to be taught to obey all that Christ commanded. They are not mere converts left to their own devices with no expectation of growth in holiness. They are meant to be brought into the church and taught the statutes of Christ. It is through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, then, that we come under subjection to Christ. Outside the auspices of the local church, then, growth in godliness is not to be expected.

 “The bottom line is that God has designed the church to be the context in which we move from sinfulness to holiness. Attempting to grow in Christ outside of the church is like trying to learn to swim without ever getting into the pool!” (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, pg. 29).

Consider then what a horrible thing it is to assure someone of his or her salvation outside of regular attendance to the preaching and teaching of the church. To offer a person such assurance is like assuring a blind man that he is in no danger as he walks toward a 500-foot cliff. Such assurance would be terribly unloving. Yet, this type of assurance is offered regularly by well-meaning Christians in the name of evangelism.

Disciples, then, are to be taught two main things:

“what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man,” (The Baptist Catechism of 1693, Q.6).

This means that the disciple is to be trained thoroughly both in right doctrine and in right practice, orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We are to believe what God has said about Himself and, at the same time, walk in accordance with that belief. The word of God has given us sufficient testimony to both. As such, the role of the church in the life of the new disciple is to be one of pointing him or her to the word of God.

This is not just the job of the pastor in the pulpit. Other Christians are to be committed to the task of training up the new disciple in what we ought to believe concerning God and what He requires of us. The pastor cannot be everywhere at once. The whole church is required for the teaching of new disciples.

A further requirement for disciples is that they be teachable. After all, that is what a disciple is: a learner. The moment a disciples ceases to learn in accordance with Christ’s ordained means, he ceases to be a disciple of Christ. We must labor, then, to remain teachable at every turn of our Christian lives.

Baptizing in the Triune Name (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.





Lesson Two: Baptizing in the Triune Name


“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’” (Matthew 28:18-19b; NASB).

Why baptism? For many Christians today, baptism has no place in any discussion of evangelism. That is because many Christians do not believe evangelism and discipleship to be intrinsically linked. In fact, to consider their practice, many Christians today do not even consider discipleship and baptism to be intrinsically linked. Yet, when Christ commissioned His church to make disciples, baptism was the first step He listed in which these new disciples were to take part.

The whole of the Great Commission is a corporate effort. The church goes, the church baptizes, and the church teaches. It also has an individual aspect, though. After the church goes and makes a new disciple, that disciple submits to baptism and submits to the teaching of the church.

For the new disciple, then, there are two aspects to discipleship: the one-time submission to baptism and the ongoing submission to teaching. Both of these two aspects of discipleship require a common denominator: the local church. The local church is essential for the carrying out of the Great Commission. There is no sense in which baptism and teaching in the New Testament was expected to occur outside of the authority of local congregations.

The very nature and structure of the New Testament testifies to this fact. All but three of the epistles and Revelation (itself an epistle to the seven churches) were written either to local churches or to be circulated among local churches. The other three epistles were written to church leaders for the benefit of local churches. The other five books of the New Testament are the Gospels and Acts, in which must instruction is given for a godly ordering of local churches.

“The New Testament is a church book, a book for Christians in the context of a local church. The New Testament knows nothing of a churchless Christianity. There can be no ‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ or no continuing ‘in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and breaking of bread and prayers’ unless a Christian is a member of a visible body of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:20 & Acts 2:41,42 & 47),” (Earl Blackburn, Denominations or Associations? pg. 28).

Our subjects this week (baptism) and next week (teaching) only make sense within the context of the local church. The commands will necessarily be fulfilled by a Christian if he or she is truly disciple of Christ, and these commands are only fulfilled within the auspices of the local church. This fact makes membership within the local church absolutely necessary for the Christian. “Far from being only one of many options for the Christian, the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world,” (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, pg. 21).

Baptism is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship, because church membership is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship. If we are to be discipled by Christ, it will occur within the body of Christ. The first step in Christian discipleship, and the first step in church membership are the same: baptism.

“[Baptism] is what the Bible presents as the first step for the Christian, and the assumption in the New Testament is that all Christians have been baptized,” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, pg. 160).

Baptism, as a public admission of a person into the church, accomplishes two things. The first thing it accomplishes is to recognize the disciple’s willing submission to the authority of the church in his or her life. This is a countercultural concept, especially in America. We don’t like to think of any human being as having authority over us. However, the Bible is very clear that we are to subject ourselves to one another in Christ (Eph. 5:21). When I submit myself to a local church through baptism, I am declaring my desire to be submitted to that local congregation for admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness.

This willing submission assumes a second desired end. It assumes that a church desires to corporately come alongside the new disciple and provide him or her with godly admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness. For those who have left everything to follow Christ, it means even more. It means that the church will provide him or her with “a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms,” (Mark 10:30; NASB). This submission, then, is necessarily reciprocal, and baptism is the rite through which we enter this relationship of mutual submission.

“[Baptism] ratifies our union with those who are saved by Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-26). It is therefore often called the rite of initiation into the Christian Church,” (J. Aspinwall Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 138).

Christian disciples today are rightly skeptical of joining themselves to churches, because many if not most churches are either ill-equipped or unwilling to join themselves to new disciples. This is one of the great tragedies of our day. Churches have forgotten, if they ever knew, how to be churches to those who come through their doors.

“Biblical membership means taking responsibility. It comes from our mutual obligations as spelled out in all of Scripture’s one another passages—love one another, serve one another, encourage one another. All of these commands should be encapsulated in the covenant of a healthy church,” (Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? pp. 95-96).

One reason we don’t often think about what we owe to one another and, specifically, what we owe to new disciples among us, is because we have forgotten the solemnity of baptism. We have forgotten the fact, or perhaps were never taught the fact, that baptism is the sealing of a covenant bond between Christ’s disciples. Baptism is a solemn vow between new members and churches, a commitment to mutual submission and a reciprocal consideration of one another’s welfare.

Baptism is not merely an individual decision. It is not merely the decision of a believer to join himself or herself to a church. Rather, it is the mutual decision of the church and the believer to enter into vital union with one another. The church is not the church without her members, and Christians are not living as true Christians apart from the church. As such, baptism is just as much a submission of the church to the member as it is a submission of the member to the church (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, 48).

The mode and formula of baptism. In Baptist churches, we teach that new members who enter into the covenant community through faith are the only rightful recipients of the sacrament of baptism. According to An Orthodox Catechism, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, and faith in and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ” are the “proper subjects of this ordinance,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.69). This is well known among Baptist churches. What though, are the proper mode and formula for baptism?

Before discussing mode we must note that the mode, though important, is of far less importance than the order and formula of baptism. Many of the first generation Particular Baptists, though baptized as believers, were nonetheless baptized by pouring or sprinkling, not immersion. When considering the authenticity of a baptism, I am far less concerned about the mode than I am about the order and formula. Nonetheless, Baptists have historically recognized immersion as the true mode of baptism.

This was the preferred mode of the early church. Pouring or sprinkling were only used in instances were immersion was not an option. The early church clearly understood, as we see in the Didache, that immersion was the proper mode employed by Christ and the apostles.

“The procedure for baptizing is as follows. After rehearsing all the preliminaries, immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. If neither is practicable, then sprinkle water three times on the head ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’” (The Didache, 7).

Finally, as new disciples are added to our number through baptism, they are to be baptized in a Trinitarian formula. This practice, as we see in the above quote, was clearly the practice of the church from the earliest times. It is also a practice that the church has continued to this day.

Why do we baptize in the Triune name, though? We baptize in the name of our Triune God to signify baptism in His authority. Remember that we go forth in Christ’s authority to make disciples. Christ further commands that we baptize in the authority of the Triune God any who enter into discipleship with Him. Baptism being the entrance point into the church, and baptism being divinely commanded of all who enter into the discipleship of Christ in the authority of the Triune name, all who would come to Christ as Lord must also submit themselves to the local church through baptism.

As such, it is proper to follow in the apostles’ footsteps in our discussion of baptism. Just as they preached baptism as a part of their evangelistic message (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 22:16), so ought the church today. If we are not baptizing we are not making disciples, and if we are not making disciples we are not being faithful to our King. Let us, then, reconsider the importance of baptism for the work of evangelism.

A Working Definition of Evangelism (Third Revision)

You can see the original Definition here, the first revision here, and the second revision here.


“With a view toward making disciples of all nations1 and entering them into covenant membership with a local church, through baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 2 in order that they may be taught to observe all that Christ commanded,3 evangelism is the endeavor of the entire church4 to explain to the unregenerate—both in their midst and in the world5—God’s holiness,6 man’s sin and its wages,7 Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His obedience in life,8 death,9 and resurrection,10 and the proper response of sinners: repentance from sin toward God11 and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.”12

1 Mt. 28:19a; Acts 8:1; Col. 1:5-6

2 Mt. 28:19b; 1Cor. 10:1-2, 11; Acts 2:37-39; 8:12-13; 18:8; Eph. 4:1-6; Rom. 12:5; 1Cor. 12:25; Eph. 4:25

3 Mt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 20:20; Eph. 2:20

4 1Pt. 3:15; Phil. 2:14-16; Lk. 12:48; Eph. 4:12

5 1Cor. 9:18; Gal. 1:8-9; Mt. 24:14; Mk. 13:10

6 Exod. 24:17; Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29; Isa. 6:3-5; 1Tim. 6:16

7 Rom. 3:23; 5:12; Tit. 1:15; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-19

8 Rom. 5:19; Heb. 5:8

9 Phil. 2:8

10 1Cor. 15; 2Cor. 5:15; 1Thess. 4:14

11 Mt. 3:2; 4:17; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:20-21; 26:20; Rom. 2:4; 2Cor. 7:10; 2Pt. 3:9;

      Rev. 3:19

12 Rom. 1:16; 4:5; 9:33; 10:4, 9-11; Gal. 3:6, 9, 22; Eph. 2:8; Heb. 11:6

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part I – Romans 1-8

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:



In our most recent posts, we have looked to the narrative portions of the New Testament to discover what they might teach us regarding Public Theology. We must caution ourselves not to read into the descriptive portions of Scripture anything that is not prescriptive. Thus, it has been our aim to stick only to examples in the words and actions of Christ and the apostles that can be proven by a closer examination of the more didactic portions of the New Testament. Today, we have finally arrived at those portions: the epistles.

A Preliminary Caution

We must be careful when discussing the different epistles within the New Testament canon, so that we do not speak in terms of a strictly Pauline theology, a Petrine theology, a Johannine theology, etc. The individual writers of Scripture did have different emphases because of their unique personalities and backgrounds. They also had different emphases because of their unique audiences and the occasions of their writings. However, insofar as the apostles were taught of the same Lord, led by the same Spirit, and inspired of the same God and Father of all to pen His holy word, they only confessed one faith.

Thus, as we begin the remainder of our study of New Testament public theology with the letters of Paul, we will take great care that we do not pit Paul’s public theology against any of the other New Testament authors. We will simply demonstrate some of his unique contributions to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, particularly as it relates to public theology. What we will find is that there is much unexpected overlap between Paul’s emphases and those of the other New Testament authors. On the other side of the same coin, we will see that there is much unexpected variety of emphases from one of Paul’s letters to the next.

Romans 1-8

The Thesis Statement of Romans

Providentially, Paul wrote to the church at Rome about his desire to come and to minister the gospel to them and, as we shall see, four other books of the Bible (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) would later be written by Paul from a Roman imprisonment. Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome spilled over into a lengthy and greatly cherished letter. In fact, Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 has been touted as the thesis statement that provides the structure for all that follows in the letter.

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we will use them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 1-8.

A Gospel for the Church

Notice firstly the fact that Paul is talking to the church of God: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints,” (vs. 7a; NASB). Paul tells these believers that he desires to preach the gospel to them. He does not say he desires to preach moralism, jokes, stories, or any other thing modern, pragmatic churches might use in an attempt to attract unbelievers. Paul recognized one thing, and he recognized it very well: the corporate worship of God in general, and the preaching of His word in particular, are privileges given to His people. Paul had no desire to preach secular psychology, the traditions of men, or the wisdom of the world. Paul was concerned with preaching that which has the power to save the soul: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification. He desired to preach this gospel to the church, a message that we often relegate to the task of evangelism. Why did he want to preach it to the church? He wanted to do so in order that, through the preaching of the gospel, they might be saved. But aren’t they already saved? I mean, they are the church aren’t they? When we think along these lines, we fall into the error of oversimplifying the doctrine of salvation.

Paul recognized the fact that his readers were already justified through the cross-work of Jesus Christ. He was not speaking of a desire to preach the gospel to them for the furtherance of their justification. Rather, his desire was to preach the gospel to them for their further sanctification (an essential element of overall salvation), that they might grow in their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, thus, walk according to the knowledge they had accumulated.

The sufficiency of the gospel. Now, some may be confused as to how this teaching has anything to do with Public Theology. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the already saved church, we must be very precise in how we define the gospel. As we will see in our study of Galatians, adding anything to the gospel that is not intrinsic to the gospel makes it no gospel at all.

The first thing we must do is recognize the difference between the gospel and “gospel issues.” There are many pastors and theologians in the blogosphere today who use the term gospel issue as a social justice sledge-hammer to force people to do what they want them to do. We must first recognize that every sin is a “gospel issue,” because the gospel is what holistically saves us from sin. Furthermore, we should not confuse the gospel itself with the fruit that the gospel produces. The mission of the church must be centered on the preaching of the gospel.

Gospel preaching. We say that it saves us holistically, because the gospel saves us from beginning to end. Notice again that the gospel Paul is bringing, he is bringing to the church. Gospel preaching makes disciples; gospel preaching also teaches and guides disciples.

To say that we need anything other than gospel preaching to cure ethnic strife (for example) in Christian churches is like saying, “I stopped spanking my child, because it didn’t work.” Where we do not see immediate success in what God has commanded that we do, we do not have the justification to inject worldly philosophy and the traditions of man. Let us recall that Abraham had an illegitimate child with Hagar, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. Genesis 16). Saul offered the sacrifice he had not been commanded to offer and lost his throne, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 15). We will explore this notion more when we get to our study of Colossians.

The Power of God

Notice secondly that the gospel is the power of God to save. The Law has no power to save (Rom. 3:20, 28). Good feelings have no power to save. A sense of belonging and getting “plugged into a church ministry” have no power to save. The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel itself.

The goal of every valid, Christian pulpit ministry is wrapped up in this singular concept. Godly preaching has as its goal the salvation of the hearers (1Cor. 1:21; 15:2). There is a definite moment when that salvation is brought to the sinner, when he is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God (Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:14-17, 29-30). However, the result of that initial grace is that the newly regenerate saint will identify with the visible church through baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, he will come under the teaching of the word of God and be taught all that Christ commanded. This is true discipleship: that sinners would repent, be baptized, and sit under the preached word of Christ (Mt. 28:19-20). It is that preached word, that gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God unto final salvation (Rom. 8:30; 10:11-14).

Christian discipleship. One thing that often gets overlooked in our discussion of Public Theology is the necessity of discipleship. We must recognize the fact that no one comes to the Christian religion with a philosophical clean slate. By the time we come to faith in Christ, and even after we come to faith in Him, we will have imbibed the world’s way of thinking on a host of issues (e.g. gender, economics, science, ethnic relations, work ethic, etc.). These are all issues on which our thinking must be brought in line with the word of God.

There are two ways in which our thinking on these issues can be brought in line with Scripture: gospel preaching and intentional discipleship. There are at least two terms in the Greek Scriptures that are commonly translated preaching: κηρύσσω, or I herald (proclaim; cf. Lk. 24:46-47), and εὐαγγελίζω, or I bring good news (preach the gospel; 1Pt. 1:12). These are not the only two terms used in the Greek Scriptures, but they will suffice to demonstrate how preaching is discussed in the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, thanks to expository preaching, will be more clear on what we mean by gospel preaching than intentional discipleship. By gospel preaching, we simply mean the week-in / week-out preaching of the whole counsel of God, it’s central, unifying message being that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intentional discipleship is less uniform from church to church. Some elders are more drawn to a very intense one-on-one approach to discipleship. Others prefer group settings like Sunday School, small groups, etc. It is not our purpose here to tell pastors which of these is the only right and proper approach to intentional discipleship. The point is that intentional discipleship is a necessary element of church life. If this were not true, Paul might not have written Romans 12-16.

It is this intentional discipleship Paul wrote about when he told his child in the faith, Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2Tim. 2:2; NASB). The term used in 2 Timothy 2:2 for teach is the word διδάσκω from which we get the English term didactic. This approach might be seen as more lecture based. In Romans 2:18 and Galatians 6:6, Paul uses a much more intimate term: κατηχέω, from which we get the English term catechetical. Strong’s concordance gives as one definition: “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Where a more didactic approach might take place in a lecture-based setting, like a small group or Sunday School class, the catechetical approach might be encouraged in one-on-one settings like an intimate fellowship or in the home. Either way, the discipleship of Christians, and children of Christian parents, is essential for the Christian life.

Gospel-centered discipleship. Even the discipleship of Christians is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ as its central focus, because the gospel is God’s power unto salvation and ultimate salvation requires growth in holiness. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Heb. 12:14; NKJV). Christians who do not pursue holiness will not see the Lord; they will not be saved. Let us recall what is the power of God unto this salvation: the gospel. So, if salvation requires holiness and the gospel of God is sufficient for our salvation, it is clear that the gospel is sufficient for making Christians holy.

This means that all sin is to be addressed with the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our personal discipleship. When addressing homosexual marriage, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing ethnic strife, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing parental neglect, laziness, drunkenness, abuse, insubordination, etc., we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship.


Romans 1-8 is a thorough teaching on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul labors for chapters to help his readers to understand Christ’s gospel. Why? Simple. He wants them to know the gospel through which they have been justified, through which they are being sanctified, and through which they will be glorified. As a result of having a precise knowledge of the gospel of saving grace, believers are equipped to walk according to the statutes given them in God’s word. Having been declared holy as a result of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Christians are emboldened to walk in holiness by the power of the Spirit through the word preached.

In our next article, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology – The Incarnate Lord (Part II)

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:


As we consider the life and teaching of our incarnate Lord, let us keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that Christ’s primary mission was not that of social change. Rather, His primary goal was that of redeeming His bride (the church). However, given the fact that His relationship with His bride is a covenant relationship, this work of redemption came with some very real implications for Covenant Theology.

Whether referring to the saints of the Old or of the New Testament, 17th century Particular Baptists designated them the Church. The radical divide presented in Dispensationalism between ethnic, national Israel and the Church would not only have been absolutely foreign to our Particular Baptist forefathers. It would have been downright abhorrent. Insofar as the saints of the Old Testament period believed on Yahweh alone for their righteous standing before God, they were truly circumcised of the heart.

Continuity through General Equity

There was no sense, in the Old Testament, in which man was saved by the Law or in which he could merit his own salvation. There were consequences built into the civil law that provided for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community then just as there are consequences built into the New Testament policy of church discipline for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community today. Whether it was a matter of corporal punishment in the nation of Israel or excommunication from the ranks of the New Covenant church, the requirement of three or more witnesses is the same.

As such, our incarnate Lord made clear that the Civil Law of national Israel was given as a shadow of the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. In this sense, Christ did not abolish the Civil and Ceremonial Law so much as make application from them to local congregations. In so doing, Christ did not use the greater reality of national Jewish law to point to shadows in the New Covenant church. Rather, the Civil and Ceremonial Laws were given as shadows in order that they might highlight the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. This is the Reformation principle known as “general equity.” The letter of the Old Covenant law is no longer binding on the Christian church, but the eternal, moral principles behind them are.

“To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use,” (The Baptist Confession, 19.4).

Why, though, does church discipline exist? Church discipline exists in order that Christ may present His bride to His Father as pure, spotless, and without blemish. This is not to say that we will be sinlessly perfect in this life. We will not obtain perfection until glory. However, it does mean that we will be distinguished from the world.

God’s Set Apart People

One of the reasons Israel was given the Civil and Ceremonial Laws was to distinguish her from the surrounding nations. They were told that they were to be different from the nations around them who sacrificed their children to their false gods (Lev. 20:2-5). In giving them this instruction, Moses did not assume that Israel would automatically be enticed to go and sacrifice their babies to Molech. Rather, it would be over time, as they allowed for more and more syncretism over the years, they would eventually find little difference between them and their pagan neighbors, even sacrificing their babies on the altar (1Kgs. 11:7; 2Kgs. 23:10; Jer. 32:35).

In the same way, one of the reasons church discipline has been given to the church is to distinguish her from the world. “Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you,’” (2Cor. 6:17; NKJV). Our Lord told His disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Him (John 15:18). An essential mark of Christ’s disciples is that they will be set apart (sanctified) from the world. Christ’s true disciples will be distinguished by a Bible-centered worldview (John 17:17).

As such, the social ills that plague our society (e.g. racism, chauvinism, divorce, etc.) ought all to be issues addressed in church discipline. We are not here calling for the knee-jerk excommunication of such as commit these sins. Rather, we are calling for the biblical practice of church discipline to be applied in these cases.

Biblical Church Discipline

The biblical practice of church discipline is four-fold. It starts with what has come to be known as formative church discipline. That is the discipline of the Spirit applied to the hearts and minds of church members as they sit under the regular preaching of God’s word. Of course, if the Spirit is to discipline His people through the preached word on these matters, pastors have a duty to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This means that, where opportunity arises in the text to address racism, chauvinism, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc., pastors must seize these opportunities and emphasize the biblical standard in their preaching of the word.

Where sins of this nature persist within the body in spite of the preached word, they must be addressed in a much more personal space. The Bible regularly exhorts the body toward personal admonition (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; 2Thess. 3:15; Tit. 2:4; 3:10). According to our Lord, there are three phases to personal admonition: (1) go to your brother in private and, if he listens to you, you have won your brother; (2) if he does not listen to you, take another brother with you so that, by the word of two or more witnesses, every matter may be established; and (3) if he still does not listen to you, take the matter before the church (see Mt. 18:15-20).

We must remember, anytime we discuss church discipline, that it was given for the purity of the church. Again, the church is to be pure; the church is to be set apart from the world. As such, as we have already stated, the world will hate us.

God’s Hated People

Of course, God’s people have always been hated by the world. We have always been hated, because we have always been set apart by His word (John 17:14, 17). We have also been hated because of the work of the devil. Our Lord told the Jewish leaders of His day that they were of their father: the devil (John 8:44). It was because the Jewish leaders were sons of Satan, the brood of vipers (Mt. 3:7), that they murdered the prophets (Mt. 23:29-36). In the same way, our Lord told His disciples that they would be dragged before rulers by the Jewish leaders of their day (Mt. 5:11-12; 23:34).

Does this mean that we are to shun the Jews and the world at large? Should we retreat into monasteries never to be heard from again? No. Rather, our Lord gave us a commission to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b; NASB). Through the book of Acts and the epistles we will see, both in practice and in teaching, that the apostles had a heart for both the Jews and the Gentiles. They both taught and practiced taking the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Rom. 1:16b; NASB). It was through the incremental expansion of God’s covenant people into every tribe, tongue, and nation, as seen in Acts, that God broke down the dividing wall of hostility that once existed between God’s Israelite covenant people and the nations around them (Eph. 2:11-22). In the same way, the world will hate us as long as their hearts remain unchanged by the gospel.

We will conclude in our next post by examining the discontinuities between the two epochs divided by our Lord’s incarnation.

A Working Definition of Evangelism (Second Revision)

You can see the original Definition here, and the first revision here.


With a view toward making disciples of all nations and entering them into covenant membership with a local church, through baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in order that they may be taught all that Christ commanded, evangelism is the endeavor of the church to explain to the unregenerate—both in their midst and in the world—God’s holiness, man’s sin and its wages, Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His obedience in life, death, and resurrection, and the proper response of sinners: repentance from sin toward God and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

Higher Education and the Discipleship of the Mind

In the previous blog, I mentioned that there are several noetic effects of the Fall that have a direct impact on the quality of our American college education. In this blog, I want to address the first major issue regarding American higher education: a growing lack of mental discipline from students.

This growing lack of mental discipline is observed in three basic ways: ignorance, distractedness, and fatigue. Because of the noetic effects of the Fall, we are all subject to these issues in varying degrees. The Fall has clouded our ability to understand the world around us and has weakened the mental capacities of our mind. Therefore, to some extent, a sense of ignorance, fatigue, and distractedness is axiomatic.

However, it does appear that our intellectual ignorance is growing, despite the claims of a more enlightened society. What cultural forces have contributed to “dumbing down” of the American mind and what impacts do these have on the quality of college education?

A Common Diagnosis

Many commentators have monitored these issues and the most cited cause of this is the transition from print media to video media. Unsurprisingly, print journalists are among the loudest voices that decry our current situation and they were among the first to note that this trend has accelerated with the past decade or so because of the explosion of social media. Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, adds his perspective:

The rise of idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.

I believe that Pierce has targeted a symptom of a deeper problem in his above statement. The social media revolution in particular (and the internet revolution of the 1990s in general) has given us unprecedented access to information and news, but it has also devolved the American mind in its wake. Despite having 24/7 access to news and events, we remain ignorant of many basic things and we tend to only have a surface-level/partial understanding of the things that we know.

The age of social media has trained us to become very adept at skimming large amounts of information, but it has also deteriorated our ability to think critically. Since we are losing our critical analysis skills, this means that we are also losing our intellectual discernment. We are losing the ability to determine what is intellectually valuable, who is intellectual credible, what is trivial, and what is purely speculative. In essence, we are the generation that is “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Since our minds our withering away, we are now much more prone to distractedness and mental fatigue. This is not merely a commentary to the young generation, but it also applies to many of us who went through higher education before the internet revolution and have become progressively dumber due to its gradual impacts on our mind. Many of us have gotten to the point where we would agree with the modern adage of our day “Why spend time learning about history and dates when you can google it?”

A New Diagnosis

While it’s convenient to point the finger at the current generation because of its addiction to the internet, I want to ask a question that is rarely asked: Why has this change in media become so attractive? If it has been documented that the internet is dumbing us down, then why are so many still drawn to? I believe that the honest answer is that this mentality is the fruit of a long history of pragmatism and anti-intellectualism within American life. In other words, we have forgotten the primary and central purpose of formal education – the discipleship of the mind.

If we would be honest, the social media revolution (as well as the internet revolution of the 1990s) caters to what the modern American mind wants: a desire to know things and to appear intelligent without having to apply the necessary mental work.

The modern American mind seems to have a strong aversion toward deep, challenging, and penetrating thought and the media revolution gives us a way to remain constantly distracted without being focused on anything in particular. Because we have abandoned the very notion of the discipleship of the mind, it’s easy to understand why technological innovations that allow us to bypass the mind would become popular. The progression of anti-intellectual and pragmatic thought has borne their fruits in our generation. Those who thought that it was unnecessary to demand intellectual rigor and discipline from their children have produced a generation of unthinking, uncritical, and ignorant young adults.

Now, before we point the finger at the outside world, it’s important to realize that these cultural forces have also invaded young Christian minds. In many places, young Christian minds are just as vapid as their secular counterparts. How many of us have heard the expression: “Don’t give me theology. Give me something practical”? As mentioned previously, the mode of Biblical spirituality is more intellectual than mystical and the Christian faith places significant importance on the value of the mind for the purpose of godliness. However, the pragmatism of previous generations has led to the stereotype of the slow-witted, willfully ignorant Christian.

The Present Trajectory

This trajectory that we have observed has a very profound effect on the state of higher education. If we no longer value intellectual discipline as a nation and would rather google search all of our information, then it will be reflected in our colleges. In many ways, this means that the very mission of colleges and universities has changed. To put it bluntly, we don’t desire to educate people anymore… we train them to get jobs. This means that many degrees will be considered as worthless (i.e. most humanities) and many degrees will be created simply because the job exists (i.e. construction management).

We are already seeing these trends at the college level. There have been numerous reports on historic small liberal arts colleges that are closing their doors because they are “outdated”, whereas there continues to be rapid growth for for-profit institutions (who are notoriously known for producing shoddy education) and steady growth for technical schools. We continue to read reports of students with advanced degrees in humanities from respectable schools working as a barista, while trying to pay off $100K in college debt (a blog for another day). From the academic affairs side, it is truly sad and troubling to see that most of the faculty at colleges and universities are adjuncts because their work and skills aren’t important enough to hire them as tenure-track faculty. If trends continue as they are, then colleges and universities will be qualitatively no different than trade schools, which is a fundamental change in the mission of the university system.

In my view, this trajectory will not change unless our culture repents from its disposition towards the mind. The Christian faith exhorts us to seek wisdom and to turn from folly and to the extent that we abandon that foundation, we will reap its reward. The God who made our bodies also made our minds, and thus, He knows how it should be properly maintained. For this reason, education is not merely training to obtain employment – it is a means of discipling the mind. In other words, education is not merely a vocational issue, but it is an issue of morality. If our culture continues to throw off this connection between education and the discipleship of the mind, then we can only expect to continue to see the “dumbing down” of the American mind and the quality of American education.

This is also an exhortation to self-identified Christian colleges and seminaries. As Christians, part of “not conforming to this age” means that our disposition concerning the Christian mind and Christian education should dramatically change. If we abandon the call to diligently train our minds by yielding to the anti-intellectual disposition of our age, then our graduates (and our future pastors) will become intellectually vapid – much like the culture around us. Our witness to the world not only pertains to matters directly related to salvation, but it involves how Christ transforms the whole man – including the mind.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, The Duties of the Elders

For context, be sure and read the first eight articles listed here.

The tests mandated in Scripture are to be conducted in one particular setting: the local church. Elders are expected to have a good reputation with those outside the local body (1Tim 3:7). Nonetheless, the local body, by the leading of the word and the Spirit, has the ultimate duty of testing and approving a candidate for ministry (John 10:1-3, 16, 26-27; 1Jn 4:1-6).

Duties, unlike responsibilities, cannot be delegated. An example of this concept can be seen in the structuring of the United States military. Leaders in the military are duty bound to ensure that certain tasks and policies are upheld. They cannot abdicate or delegate these duties, but must personally fulfill them. They may, however, delegate certain responsibilities to their subordinates to ensure that the unit’s mission is accomplished in a safe and efficient manner.[1] A church might delegate some responsibilities to para-church institutions like Bible colleges and seminaries, but the moment that it abdicates its duties as they regard the ministry student, it has ceased to function in one of the most vital roles it has been given. This article will focus specifically on the duties of the elders to test and disciple elder candidates.

Discipleship of the pastoral ministry student. According to Scripture, the elders and the congregation have each been given unique gifts for this task of testing the ministerial student. Elders are uniquely qualified, if for no other reason, because they have experience in the office to which the student aspires. This is not to say that future pastors can learn nothing from mature members of the congregations, but the elders will have specific knowledge and experience of the traps of the world, the flesh, and the enemy that are unique to the office of the elder. A godly pastor, after having been faced with such pitfalls, will have already consulted Scripture and found the answers necessary for perseverance in faith, hope, and love.

As a result, it is particularly necessary for elders to have close, personal, relationships with pastoral ministry students. History abounds with examples of this type of discipleship. The Lord himself set such an example, travelling and teaching his disciples for three years before commissioning them to carry the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The apostle John recalled his intimate relationship with the Lord by referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Paul was close enough with Timothy and Titus to refer to them as his sons in the faith (1Tim 1:2; 2Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4).

Even the pagans in the ancient world understood the value of having and keeping close relations with their students. The teacher / student lineage from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle to Alexander is well documented. In fact, Plato was so fond of Socrates, his mentor, that he used him as a character in most of his books in order to convey his interpretation of the master’s teaching. Also of note is Cicero’s fondness of his son. Cicero’s concern for his son’s education was so important to him that he wrote his philosophical and political treatise On Duties particularly for his benefit.

Continuing in the footsteps of the Greeks and of Christ and His apostles, Athanasius and Augustine each wrote books to disciples whom they loved dearly. Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation to his protégé, Marcarius,[2] and Augustine wrote the rather lengthy tome City of God to his disciple, Marcellinus.[3] In the address line of a letter Augustine wrote to Marcellinus on another occasion, Augustine, like Paul before him, refers to his disciple as his “very dear son.”[4] Such endearments and personally addressed treatises could not have been the result of trivial, Sunday afternoon relationships. They were the result of committed relationships that resulted in an invested desire for the other party’s well-being, success, and returned affection.

In like manner, Martin Luther conducted sessions with the pastors he was in the habit of grooming called Tabletalk. He also sought to reform education in Germany so that the average person could read the Bible he had labored so rigorously to translate into the language of the people.[5] Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, was well known for having started a Bible study that ultimately splintered off and became the seed of the Anabaptist movement. Early on, however, Zwingli included his students in every aspect of his sermon preparation, demonstrating for them how to rightly handle the word of God. Charles Spurgeon was well known for taking a personal interest in investigating the ministry qualifications of every student at the Pastors’ College and requiring that they be actively involved in ministry while they were studying there.[6] Discipleship has always been a key duty of any pastor, but particularly as it regards those who are being raised up for ministry.

Spheres of discipleship. Recognition must now be given to the biblical concept of ministerial spheres. Pastors have certain spheres of duty to which they ought to give well reasoned attention. For instance, the Bible mandates that an elder “must be one who manages his own household well” (1Tim 3:4). Thus, if he is not discipling his own family, a man should not be expected to properly disciple God’s family. From there the question must be asked of whom within the church he must take a personal interest. The question is necessary if for no other reason because, if a pastor is spread too thin, he is of no good to himself, his own family, or anyone else in the church. So, pastors would be wise to take advantage of the spheres of responsibility God has already put into place.

God has given headship in the family to the husband (1Cor 11:3).[7] Thus, if there are twenty families in a church, the elders can eliminate much busy work by specifically singling out the twenty heads of households for discipleship. They can charge those men to disciple their own families and check in on them from time to time to assess their progress.

The second group to consider for this specific attention are the older ladies in the church. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul charges Titus to have the older women teach and disciple the younger women on how to lead godly lives. William Mounce suggests that Paul might be giving this instruction to Titus (Tit 2:4) in order to ensure that Titus will be able to more surely obey the command to treat “younger women as sisters in all purity” (1Tim 5:2b).[8]

All of this discipleship is for naught if pastors neglect the discipleship of the church’s next generation of leaders. It is not enough for pastors to say that they do not have time to disciple future leaders. If a pastor does not have time to disciple future leaders, with whom does he hope to share the ever-growing responsibility of discipling the rest of his flock? If a pastor does not make time to disciple leaders early on, he will eventually find that he has no time to properly disciple anyone, because he has raised up no one with whom he might share this responsibility.

The creedal test. Elders are responsible to disciple pastoral ministry students, but they are also meant to lead the congregation in their testing. Elders, due to their unique vocation, ought to have more time and more resources at their disposal for honing their theology and rooting it in a rich, historical tradition. Their libraries alone should give them a considerable advantage over the average congregant in the pursuit of acquiring sound doctrine. The elder’s special circumstance comes with a distinct obligation to ensure the theological specificity of the local church in general and future pastors in particular. The primary way in which this obligation is fulfilled is through expository preaching.

Many pastors do not even know how great a disservice they do to their flocks by neglecting their duty to preach the word. In seeking to preach all application, they inflate their congregation with baseless morality which can only ever lead to a damnable legalism or an enduring hopelessness. In seeking to preach all doctrine, they puff up their congregation with a dead orthodoxy that will often lead to an arrogant self-centeredness or to certain forms of antinomianism. The only way to avoid such extremes is to preach the word. Preach expositionally and preach theologically, for “true biblical preaching is both expository and theological in substance.”[9] By preaching the word, the people will be grounded in the theological roots of their faith and begin to manifest the practical fruits that spring from it.

As they study for such preaching, pastors will also be able to put the time-tested creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the faith to the test of Scripture. They will have the privilege of seeing for themselves whether those documents hold up against the critique of the Bible. As they prayerfully embark on this journey, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, pastors will assuredly come to a greater understanding of Christian orthodoxy, and have a more robust faith to pass on to the next generation of pastors.

Also beneficial to the cause of testing the confession of prospective pastors is the delegation of certain teaching and preaching responsibilities in the church. As the candidate studies to teach in Sunday school, to teach a Bible study, or to fill the pulpit on occasion, he will be forced to groom his theology and improve it. Often, the best way for one to learn something is to commit oneself to teaching it to others.[10] Through this process, elders also have the opportunity to observe and examine prospective elders’ exegesis, conclusions, connections, and applications of the text. Also in this process, elders will be granting congregations more opportunities to test the ministry student on the creedal front.

The character test. In regard to testing the character of the prospective elder, elders must intentionally assert themselves into his life. If the apostle Paul did not think himself to have obtained a perfect Christian maturity (Phil 3:12), how much less should elders assume the maturity of their students. Rather, if the church is expected to confess their sins to one another (Jas 5:16; 1Jn 1:8-9), all the more the elders ought to lead by example, confessing their sins to one another, and exhorting their students to confess their sins.

The implication, then, is that the elder will be working out his own salvation, mortifying his own sins, so that he is not ashamed or hypocritical when he seeks to help his student work out his salvation and mortify his own sin. Perhaps the most salient thing a pastor can do in his testing of a pastoral student’s character is to model for him the character he is to have (Phil 3:17; 2Thess 3:7, 9; 1Tim 4:12; Tit 2:7; 1Pt 5:3). Of course, no one ever set an example for someone in their absence. Therefore, it is necessary that pastors both exemplify the character they expect out of their students and be in their lives enough that they can see it.

The aptitude test. If anyone is equipped to both recognize true giftedness for the ministry and have empathy for a pastoral candidate in the early years of his formative education, it is his elders. Undoubtedly, both of these elements are necessary for the process of examination and confirmation. Pastors should know, both scripturally and experientially, what is necessary for carrying out the duties of the office and what difficulties arise in the process of carrying them out. Thus, they are uniquely qualified to spot the gifting of a particular candidate for ministry when it surfaces.

The term gifted is an intentional term that should not be brushed over. The pastoral candidate does not have innate skills endowed upon him by nature, nor does he have acquired skills mined from personal determination. Rather, his skills ought to be recognized as just what they are: gifts from God. Granted, God may instill certain gifts in men from birth, or He may cause them to undergo a series of challenges whereby they acquire these gifts, but they are nevertheless gifts that He has given. It is Christ Himself who “distributes gifts from the fullness that he himself possesses, because he has triumphed and fills all things.”[11] The moment the elder candidate begins to assume personal ownership of these gifts he runs the risk of falling prey to either pride or self-reliance or both.

Too often pastors use their skills for personal gain to the detriment of the church and the name of Christ. The elders’ goal ought to be to safeguard the church against such men. The gifts given to pastors are mighty weapons that can be used for either great good or great harm. The elders’ duties then are to aid the prospective elder in acquiring, sharpening, and properly respecting the gifts he has been given by God. As such, his gifts will be weapons used safely, honorably, and with precision to accomplish the tasks predestined for the pastoral candidate to accomplish.

[1], “Duties, Responsibilities, And Authority Explained,” Army Study Guide, April 03, 2006, (accessed December 4, 2011).

[2]Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. A Religious of C.S.M.V (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 25.

[3]Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 5.

[4]Augustine, Saint Augustine Letters – Volume III: 131-164, trans. Wilfrid Parsons (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc, 1953), 6.

[5]William F. Leonhart, “Luther’s Vision of Free Education for Family and Church” (thesis, The College at Southwestern, Fort Worth, TX, 2011), 2-3.

[6]William F. Leonhart, “Spurgeon, Education, and the Local Church” (thesis, The College at Southwestern, Fort Worth, TX, 2011), 8-9.

[7]Paige Patterson, The Troubled Triumphant Church (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), 178-179.

[8]William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 270.

[9]Joel Breidenbaugh, Preaching for Bodybuilding (Bloomington: CrossBooks, 2010), 16.

[10]From the popular saying, “The best way to learn is to teach,” often attributed to Frank Oppenheimer.

[11]Vern S. Poythress, “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39, no. 1 (1996): 71.