Responding to Frank Turek’s Defense of Andy Stanley (White) from Alpha & Omega Ministries

I don’t have a normal commitment to share episodes of The Dividing Line, here or on social media. If I did, it would be all I share, because of the sheer amount of content Dr. White puts out. That said, in this video at about the 16:25 mark, James White offers what I think is a standard Reformed view of the role and purpose of the local church. There are many in our day who advocate for a view that says that church meetings ought to primarily be for unbelievers. Are they? Give it a listen..



Senior Thesis

This series breaks up my senior thesis Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students into smaller, easy-to-read articles.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students

Part One: Pragmatism and the Church

Part Two: The Church and the Pastoral Ministry Student

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, Conclusion

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

The evangelical church in the West may have lost its mind, but there is no reason to believe that it is a permanent loss. Pragmatism has certainly gotten a foothold in the church for now. However, there is hope. If the church once again begins to take seriously its role in the life of the pastoral ministry student, the next generation of leaders might just prove to be the generation that restores the Christian mind to the church in the West. This upward cycle, however, must start somewhere. These articles have contended that the place where such a revolution must begin is in the life of the local church. The church has been complacent for far too long. It is time that the world sees what she can do when she begins to shed this plague of pragmatism.

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.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, The Congregation’s Duties

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

Some inquiry must now be made regarding the spheres in which such testing must necessarily take place. Though professors and school administrators may prove valuable in the life of the pastoral ministry student, only his elders and congregation are necessary for the testing that truly matters in Scripture. Only the elders and the congregation are commanded to carry out this testing in Scripture (1Tim. 3:1-10; 1John 4:1). Jesus and the apostles nowhere give directives to any maverick Christians operating outside the purview of the local assembly to disciple these young pastors. Nor do they command impressionable, young men who desire the office of elder to seek out such mentorship. Under the right conditions, such relationships may certainly prove beneficial, particularly academic relationships, but they are by no means necessary.

The next two sections, then, will examine the two bodies responsible for the testing of a future elder: the congregation and the elders of his local church. The congregation is responsible, in the exercise of their gifts, to discern the spirit of the man they are raising up to leadership. The elders must take particular care to disciple the pastoral candidate and to lead the congregation in his testing and confirmation.

The creedal test. Congregations in America have certainly lost their mind. They have come to be seen, and to see themselves, as little more than spectators of the overly crafty, rhetorical sport of Sunday preaching. The idea that he or she might have a role in such things as examining and approving the future leaders of the universal church is unfathomable to the average congregant. After all, such quality assurance measures ought to be taken by more qualified people, right? This question, of course, assumes that the Spirit-led, Spirit-gifted, elder-guided congregant is not the most qualified person to do such work. The presuppositions behind this question are unbiblical.

Congregations are the most qualified to discern the voice of their Shepherd, and also to discern the voice of false shepherds. The German reformer, Martin Luther, wrote of the congregation’s role in examining prospective pastors: “It is the sheep who are to judge whether they teach the voice [i.e. the words] of Christ or the words of strangers.”[1] Thus, a well-trained, Spirit-led, Bible-believing congregation ought to be able to spot a theological delinquent long before its elders and deacons have the opportunity to lay hands on him for the ministry.

So, if a church is to utilize such tools as creeds, confessions, and catechisms to examine and ordain pastors, it behooves the leaders of that church to encourage the congregation to be familiar with such tools. Some pastors may go so far as to teach on the creeds and confessions in Sunday schools, Sunday evening services, or mid-week services. Using catechisms of varying degrees of difficulty in discipleship programs, and encouraging the usage of them in the home, may also improve theological discernment in the congregation. What is more, God may use this ministry to awaken some men to their own individual calling to the ministry or reveal to the church those who are natural leaders and those who are not. In other words, by discipling the body of Christ, pastoral candidates should naturally rise to the surface.

A prospective elder candidate, then, must be known as a covenant member of the local body in good standing. How can a church trust the credentials of a churchless rogue or a troublemaker? He would also be one who is sound in his doctrine and excels in his knowledge and practice of the church’s binding documents (i.e. creeds, confessions, catechisms, covenants, bylaws, etc.). It would be fairly hypocritical to expect the laity to hold to a confession to which one would not hold prospective leaders. In short, the elder candidate is first and foremost a churchman.[2]

Unfortunately, many churches today do not have such binding documents whereby their members might discern the doctrinal unity of the body. Even more devastating is the complete lack of emphasis many churches place on the importance of church membership.[3] Elders are expected to oversee and tend to the flock of God. Yet, they have no hope of carrying out this obligation without drafting a statement expressing the church’s doctrinal unity and having covenanted members of the church sign off on those minimal doctrinal commitments. Congregations, likewise, have no means by which to discern the theological misgivings of their overseers without such safeguards in place.

The character test. Perhaps the greatest detriment to the test of a ministry student’s character is the loss of a sense of community in the local church. In a culture where the standard is for one to come to church on most Sundays, but to otherwise have little more contact with one’s church, the sense of community and spiritual family is all but absent. A large part of the problem is doctrinal.

The doctrine of adoption is rarely taught in modern evangelicalism and, where it is taught, the familial aspects of it are even more rarely highlighted. As a rule, most pastors that would even deign to address the doctrine of spiritual adoption tend to only focus on its implications for the Father / child relationship. Little onus is given to its implications for the adopted child’s relationships with those who have also been adopted. God’s children are not only adopted unto Him, but are also adopted into a family of similarly adopted fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1Tim 5:1-2).[4] Were a pastor to go so far in his teaching of this doctrine, he might still run the danger of missing the final, and perhaps most crucial, step in the process: giving the application.

For the purpose of the present series of articles, the application is that the ministry student should be a member in good standing with a local church. He should also be actively involved with other actively involved members who understand that their relationship with one another is not a shallow, Sunday-only association. Wayne Grudem suggests that the frequent use of the term brother by the New Testament authors might indicates “the strong consciousness they had of the nature of the church as the family of God.” [5]  Their relationship is a familial one, and thus should take on a special intimacy. True character examination becomes possible in this intimate, familial environment but never apart from it.

Brothers and sisters who are brothers and sisters by natural birth are typically forced by their common situation to put up with one another and strive hard after some semblance of civility. Because siblings share parents, rooms, hand-me-down clothing, a dining-room table, a television, and the backseat of the car, they are forced to find ways to confront one another rather than avoiding one another. Through these situations, they learn something of one another’s character. In like manner, the family of God should not practice avoidance, but should seek opportunities to share their lives with one another so that they may, by natural processes, learn something of one another’s character. In this environment, character examination of prospective elders is almost an afterthought.

Here, functions like potlucks, church picnics, Friday night fellowships, small group Bible studies, phone calls, and house calls become pivotal. No one can hope to properly discern the character of an individual when they only see them once a week engaging in surface-level conversations with them averaging between five to ten minutes. The early church invited church leaders and those carrying their letters into their homes at the risk of being persecuted by the ruling authorities.[6] Yet, most Christians today will not even invite their fellow church members over for supper. To come to the point, regular interaction outside of the regular church services is fundamental to the task of testing prospective elders’ character.

The aptitude test. What the congregation sees at the church, however, is likewise fundamental. Pastoral candidates must show themselves to be gifted for the ministry, and there is no better place than the church for the prospective pastor to operate in those gifts. A pastor is to be a servant; the local church provides ample opportunities to serve. A pastor is to be a teacher; the local church ought to provide many teaching opportunities for pastoral students. A pastor is to be a preacher; pastoral candidates should then be first picked for pulpit supply. A pastor is to be an evangelist; the local church should have some sort of evangelism ministry in which he might participate. As the pastor engages in these various ministry roles, he will find that he is working alongside members of the congregation, if indeed the individual members of the congregation are operating in the gifts the Spirit has given them. Such functions, at their core, represent the image of our Trinitarian God in which we have been made.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul continually draws their attention back to the Trinitarian nature of God. In chapter one, he stresses the Trinitarian work of God in the salvation of His saints. In chapter two, he includes two verses that directly reference all three Persons of the Trinity (vv. 18, 22). In chapter three, he concludes the first half of his letter with a purposefully Trinitarian prayer. In chapter four, Paul takes his Trinitarian focus in a new direction; he begins to highlight the duty of the church to image forth both the diversity and the unity of God. Just as there is one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all (vs. 6), and just as these Three work toward the common goal of the glory of God, so too the church has been diversely gifted to work toward the unity of the faith (vv. 7-16):

“The idea is not mainly that of individual believers attaining to perfection but rather that of the church, made up of the whole body of believers and viewed as a single organism, reaching its full spiritual stature.” [7]

The local body being so diversely gifted to discern against tricky, crafty, and deceitful men (Eph 4:14), there is no institution more qualified to discern the abilities of those who will be the pastors of the future. Elders and deacons may be particularly qualified to teach and recognize skills necessary for ministry in pastoral candidates. However, leaders who do not take advantage of the variety of gifts that God has given to the congregation for the examination and confirmation of elders forfeit an invaluable resource.

A danger is present in this course of action, though. An immature or a rebellious congregation will always be prone to “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires” (2Tim 4:3). A teacher could easily be promoted on sheer ability alone with little to no consideration of creed or character. Nevertheless, this danger is no cause to forsake the sacred task of the congregation to discern their teachers’ aptitude.

Many churches are quite unwise and do not rely on the Holy Spirit as they ought, but judge their elders in the flesh. Yet even Spurgeon wrote that he would rather trust the judgment of the “unwise” collective than his own in regard to his own qualifications.[8] Thus, to leave the task of confirming a man’s call to the ministry up to the elders alone or, worse still, the candidate himself is a sinful case of negligence and a practical denial of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church. The congregation must be involved in the process.[9]

[1]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol 39: Church and Ministry I (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 307.

[2]Lloyd-Jones, Preachers, 114.

[3]Amy Johnson Frykholm, “Loose connections: what’s happening to church membership?,” Christian Century 11, no. 128 (May 2011): 22.

[4]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theolgogy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 741-742.

[5]Ibid., 741.

[6]Wayne A. Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 121-122.

[7]Curtis Vaughan, Bible Study Commentary, ed. Curtis Vaughan, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 95.

[8]Spurgeon, Lectures, 32-33

[9]Lloyd-Jones, Preaching, 108-109.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, The Testing of Pastoral Ministry Students

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

After having given a list of qualifications for elders, Paul writes regarding deacons, “These men must also first be tested” (1Tim 3:10a; emphasis added).  Such word choice suggests that one way a church determines whether or not an elder meets the necessary qualifications to hold such an office in the church is by way of testing.[1] Yet, if this principle is merely suggested in the above passage, it is made abundantly clear in the next. When instructing the churches on how to discern false teachers, John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1John 4:1; emphasis added). This passage is specifically addressing the act of receiving a false prophet into the assembly from elsewhere. However, one can logically deduce from John’s line of reasoning that, by not accurately testing potential elders, churches likewise risk sending false prophets out into the world.

A solemn, corporate calling. The task of the local church of testing pastoral ministry students is not one that should be taken lightly. In fear and trembling, local assemblies must go about their task of confirming a man’s calling to the ministry, knowing that a flippant endorsement of a false teacher could lead to much hardship for souls under the care of the church universal. “For there is no shortage of those who base a defense of their own wicked lives on the behavior of those who are set over them and who are their teachers.”[2]

At minimum, the potential elder must pass three types of testing at the local church level: the creedal test, the character test, and the aptitude test. There are likewise two bodies responsible for conducting these tests: the congregation and the elder body. This section examines the aforementioned types of testing, while the next two focus more specifically on the responsibilities of the congregation and the elders in conducting such tests.

The creedal test. Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms have historically served to help “the church unitedly declare what it believes, what it is to be, and how it is to be an evangelical testimony to those outside of its fellowship.”[3] The Three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) have been accepted and affirmed as a test for orthodoxy throughout church history. Other such documents have since been adopted into the faith and practice of Christian congregations the world over, such as the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the First and Second London Baptist Confessions, and the Baptist Faith and Message. “The teaching of catechisms had been long a practice of the Catholic Church. All the Protestant bodies likewise resorted to this method of instruction.”[4]

No one arrives at the Bible with a neutral, objective standard. Everyone brings to the Bible their own preconceived theology. “The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians. A good theologian is one who is instructed by God.”[5] Many great truths have been discovered through the process of doing theology. These truths have been handed down in creeds and confessions. The creeds and confessions have thus served to guard the universal church from much error. Such truths include the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, the epistemology of general and special revelation, etc.

Should a man begin formulating his own doctrinal creed from a mere read of the Bible without consulting the labor of forerunners throughout church history, he would not only be ignorant of all that came before him, but arrogant in his disregard of it. It is the role of the local assembly to ensure that this type of man is not admitted into any office of leadership within the church. “Without a confession of faith the church’s evaluation of its ministers is haphazard and shallow at best; and the church will be in great danger of laying hands on novices and heretics, all because it does not measure candidates for ministry by a broad and deep standard.” [6]  Many men, however, are too proud to prostrate themselves before the cumulative wisdom of generations past, and many naive churches are all too willing to give such stubborn men a platform.

Creeds, confessions, and catechisms have historically held a high position in the teaching and guarding of the church from error. More pertinently, they have historically been used as a means of guarding the church against errors of ignorant and arrogant potential pastors. As late as the 19th century, Baptist pastors like Charles H. Spurgeon would simply assume the presence of a catechism class in the upbringing of candidates for their higher-learning institutions:

“For a man to come shuffling into a College, pretending that he holds his mind open to any form of truth, and that he is eminently receptive, but has not settled in his mind such things as whether God has an election of grace, or whether he loves his people to the end, seems to me to be a perfect monstrosity. ‘Not a novice,’ says the apostle; yet a man who has not made up his mind on such points as these, is confessedly and egregiously ‘a novice,’ and ought to be relegated to the catechism-class until he has learned the first truths of the gospel.”[7]

The character test. Head knowledge is not all that is required of pastors, though. There are qualities of character that must be observed in the life of a potential pastor if he is to be granted the office of elder. When Paul instructs Timothy as to what he must seek in an overseer, he lists skill sets as well as character traits (1Tim. 3:1-7). “Because the office of overseer is such an important position, those who fulfill that role must be of certain character—above reproach.”[8] Such traits must not merely be assumed on the part of the pastoral candidate; they must be observed.

What character qualifications should a church seek in a prospective pastor, then? Mark Dever provides a helpful, though not exhaustive, summary:

“Furthermore, as representatives of Christ, ministers have a special obligation to reflect the character of Christ. Such character will include a care for the flock, a willingness to serve, a lack of greed for money, a refusal to lord it over the flock, an exemplary life, blamelessness, being the husband of only one wife, and the ability to manage a household well. A minister is not overbearing, quick tempered, or given to much wine. And a minister should not be violent or willing to pursue dishonest gain.”[9]

This principle presents a dilemma. How might a local church hope to observe such a life in the American culture? According to a government study done in 2010, the average American adult spends nearly 10 hours a day doing personal activities (the bulk of that in sleeping), nearly 1 ½ hours eating or drinking, nearly 2 hours working around the house, ¾ an hour making purchases, nearly ¾ an hour caring for or helping others, 3 ½ hours working, ½ an hour doing educational activities, just over a ½ hour participating in community, club, or religious activities, over 5 hours watching television, surfing the internet, or being otherwise distracted, and just over a ½ hour doing other things.[10] In short, Americans are busy. With all the distraction that comes from everyday life, and the menial things to which American evangelicals can commit themselves, how might a church hope to be able to involve themselves in the life of a pastoral candidate?

The answer may not be simple, but some ideas are worth considering. Church life must become central in western culture again. As was Luther’s custom, pastors should consider visiting the homes of their churchmen regularly, encouraging and teaching them to instruct their wives and children in the way they have been commanded in Scripture. Some will need more encouragement in this regard than others. When families take their spiritual duties more seriously in the home, they inevitably take their spiritual duties in the church more seriously. After having eliminated distractions in the home so as to have more time for their family, those distractions will also be less likely to encroach upon their duties in the church body.

Once churchmen reassume their rightful roles in the home and in the church, they will once again be able to assume their proper role in the life of the pastoral candidate. If a family is hospitable enough to have their pastor to the dinner table, why not invite a pastoral ministry student to the dinner table as well? After all, the command to be hospitable is to the whole church (Rom 12:13; 1Pet 4:9). Granted, the student will not be fulfilling the same ministerial role that the pastor is expected to fulfill in these visits, but the host family will nonetheless come to better understand the man they presume to be examining. How else, after all, should they hope to truly get to know the man and render a proper assessment of him?

This solution, it must be stated, is not a universal one. Obviously, not every member of the body has been granted the gift of hospitality, nor should the pastoral student expect that he should receive a hot meal and warm conversation without having to give something in return.  The Bible calls for the minister’s family to be hospitable as well (1Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8). “Overseers must be the type of people who will gladly welcome people into their homes.”[11] Thus, the pastoral ministry student will further prove his qualification by having members of lesser acquaintance into his home.

The congregation and the prospective elder must be led and encouraged in this process by the elders and deacons of the church. An intentional elder might encourage the people from the pulpit to apply these principles and to do their part in acquiring a more intimate knowledge of the man they are examining. A prime opportunity to do so might be found on the occasions when the elders have provided the ministry student with an opportunity to preach and/or teach. These opportunities to preach and teach will naturally arise as the church seeks to discern the next set of qualifications in the man: aptitude.

The aptitude test. As well as having knowledge and character, a third trait: that of aptitude, must be present in the prospective elder. Paul does not merely suggest that overseers be able to do the tasks they have been given to do, but demands it: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1Tim. 3:2; emphasis added). As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains, though a man may be qualified to do a great many things, if he is not apt to teach and preach, he is not qualified to be a preacher.[12]

The under-shepherd, though, must not merely have a superior skill for oratory, as important as it may be. Lloyd-Jones laments, “It seems to me to be one of the tragedies of the modern Church that we tend to put ability first.”[13] The overseer must also be equipped with wisdom and people skills:

“The preacher must be a godly man. But he must also have wisdom. And not only that, he must also have patience and forbearance. This is most important in a preacher. The Apostle puts it thus: ‘The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient’ (2Tim 2:24).”[14]

This wisdom must be apparent in his life, particularly as it regards “outsiders” (1Tim. 3:7). “In order for the whole church to be oriented to its mission and purpose, its leaders’ interaction with the authorities, with neighbors, and with employers should commend the gospel to them.”[15] Thus, skillfulness with people and with the conduct of one’s own public life must be readily observable in the life of a pastoral candidate.

Finally, the elder must be skilled in the art of humility. The pastor will be expected to exemplify Christ in all that he does and to set the example for the congregation. Just as Christ forsook His glorious abode in heaven and subjected Himself to death, even death on a cross, so that sinners would be absolved of their sin-debt before God, so too a pastor must be willing to forsake himself for the sake of the elect.[16] Christ summarized this principle, which pastors are to model for their congregations, “But many who are first will be last, and the last, first” (Mark 10:31).

The pastor’s life, contrary to much that is expected in American evangelicalism, is not meant to be a life of privilege and comfort. Rather, the biblical ministry will be marked with great toil and hardship. Subsequently, the pastoral candidate should be one who has proven to be able to endure through trial and hardship with humility and contentment. “The stairway to the ministry is not a grand staircase but a back stairwell that leads down to the servants’ quarters.”[17] It follows that aptitude is key to the life of the pastor, or as Lloyd-Jones puts it, “we have got to emphasise natural intelligence and ability. If a man is to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ he must have ability.”[18]

To summarize, the prospective elder must be tested in creed, character, and ability. Anything short of such testing of the church’s future stewards will inevitably result in a weak church at best, and a heretical, grossly immoral, or spiritually dead church, at worst. It is thus imperative that the church conduct this vital task of discerning the spirits through testing.

[1]William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, ed. William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 132.

[2]Augustine, On Education, trans. George Howie (South Bend: Gateway Editions, LTD, 1969), 339.

[3]Joel R. Beeke et al., Living for God’s Glory (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 19.

[4] Frederick Eby, Early Protestant Educators (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc, 1931), 87.

[5]R.C Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2009), 25.

[6]Robert Paul Martin, introduction to 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, A Modern Exposition, by Samuel E. Waldron (Faverdale North: Evangelical Press, 2005), 20.

[7]Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 39.

[8]William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 169.

[9]Mark Dever, A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 796-797.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, American Time Use Survey—2010 Results (Washington: U.S.D.L. Press Office, 2011),, 9, Press Release, BLS, USDL-11-0919.

[11]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 174.

[12]D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 111.

[13]Ibid., 110.


[15]Dever, A Theology, 797.

[16]Spurgeon, Lectures, 40.

[17] Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1964), 43.

[18]Lloyd-Jones, Preaching, 111

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, Introduction to Part Two

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

The duty of testing an elder is not one that can be fulfilled pragmatically. The church cannot assume, as the pragmatists do, “that meaning resides not in propositions, but in consequences.”[1] Were this so, parents would be validated in choosing not to spank their children. Disobedience to God’s command to spare not the rod would be justified when parents find that they have a strong-willed child who reacts negatively to such discipline rather than positively. Likewise, churches would be justified in not preaching the unadulterated word of God, because such preaching does not always make for density in the pews. In contrast with the pragmatic method, the testing of an elder must be undertaken with the understanding that Scripture itself is the very word of God, while the words and reasons of men are subject to their fallen nature.[2] To this end, elders must be tested.

[1]K. Scott Oliphint, footnote in The Defense of the Faith, by Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 28.

[2]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. John Allen (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 83.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, Pragmatism in the Life of the Church

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

With such conditions arising in the culture at large, one ought not to be surprised to discover some of the core tenants of pragmatism taking root in the life of the church. James and Dewey were not explicitly anti-religion. They desired to influence religion through their new philosophy, and in many ways they accomplished their task. Pragmatism as a theological system begins by stripping the theologian of any certainty. He can believe the whole of Christian theology and teaching, but he can never be certain of it. According one Pragmatic theologian, “truth exhibits a tentative, fragmentary, and provisional quality.”[1] Thus, a Christian may have clear instructions from the Bible on matters like parenting and church government, but if experience offers newer, better solutions for such issues, the Bible’s mandates must be seen as “tentative, fragmentary, and provisional.”

Back to the Bible. Such a system certainly does not allow for any inquiry into the implicit nature of the Bible. If a Christian claims the Bible teaches something like church membership, but cannot automatically point to an explicit mandate from a proof text in Scripture, that Christian runs the risk of being labeled a pragmatist. Ironically, the one assuming the Bible does not speak to the matter, having not conducted a full investigation of his own, is the one who is ultimately being pragmatic in his approach. There is no situation with which man is confronted about which he cannot find some guiding principles in the Bible, even if he may not be able to find a proof text speaking directly to it. As the Second London Baptist Confession reads:

“Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”[2]

As such, rather than searching the Scriptures to see if such things are so, Christians have by-and-large deferred everything to the experts. Thus, if one desires to have a healthy view of church government, one need do no more work than to read IX Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever and implement his ideas. If one wants to develop an easy acrostic for one’s soteriology, one needs look no further than R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God. However, these godly men would be, and often are, appalled to find that their books often become the system propagated by many in the evangelical church rather than spurring the church on to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. The church has come to believe that truth comes by experience, and these experts have much more experience than other men in these matters. Therefore, no biblical inquiry is necessary in order to determine that the things they write are true. After all, they have apparently done all the necessary biblical study, right?

The disappearance of the Christian mind. In the early 1960s, Harry Blamires observed and lamented this attitude in the church. In his book The Christian Mind, he decried, “There is no longer a Christian Mind.”[3] Though he does not mention the term, pragmatism in the church had progressed into an anti-thinking, expert-reliant mentality. The western church had lost its mind. Men and women in the church no longer considered matters that did not in some way yield some personal, devotional value.[4] In order for an issue to be deemed worthy of inquiry, it had to “prove to have value for concrete life.”[5] If a line of inquiry was not first proven to have devotional or evangelistic or missiological value it was a moot point, even before the matter was considered.

The default posture of many Western Christians today, and certainly since Blamires’ time, is that of pragmatism. Many Christians argue that in-depth inquiry into the Bible is unnecessary for the making of many decisions. Where ignorance exists, there is liberty. This is not a biblical posture, though. Solomon argued, “It is a trap for a man to say rashly, ‘It is holy!’ and after the vows to make inquiry” (Prov. 20:25). Yet, many today seek to discourage biblical inquiry when discussing issues that have already been decided by evangelicalism’s apparently infallible experts.

The contemporary situation. Oh, there are matters that modern evangelicals find important, even important enough to take to the streets. However, even these matters are often dictated to them by the experts. Evangelicals have learned to devote so much effort to specific issues of the day that they have systematically abandoned any notion that Christian thinking is a prerequisite before acting in any other areas of life. Mark Noll explains:

“To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”[6]

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me reiterate: the evangelical church in the West has lost its mind. Such is particularly the case in regard to the issue of the relationship between local churches and those whom they raise up and send out to lead in the work of the ministry. Evangelicals in the West have completely disengaged their brains in regard to just how the local church ought to relate to pastoral ministry students. In any case, there are seminaries and professors for that, right? Wrong. Seminaries and professors play an important role in the life of the pastoral ministry student, but they cannot and should not attempt to do the job of the local church. Certainly, this is an issue regarding which western evangelicals ought to renew their minds and stop thinking so pragmatically.

[1]Victor Anderson, Pragmatic Theology (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998), 33.

[2]Nehemiah Coxe and William Collins, The Baptist Confession & the Baptist Catechism (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), 1.6.

[3]Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2005), 3.

[4]Ibid., 37-38.

[5]James, Pragmatism, 36.

[6]Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994).

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, Pragmatism as a Philosophy

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

Considering that pragmatism, as a worldview and lifestyle was already in full effect long before James and Dewey began to write, one might argue that the only contribution James and Dewey really brought to the discussion was clarification and application. They clarified the pragmatic position in the realms of philosophy (the study of wisdom) and epistemology (the study of knowledge), and demonstrated how it might be applied in matters of religion, ethics, and education.

Pragmatism Proper. William James is famous for turning pragmatism into an epistemological system, asking, “What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?”[1] In James’ epistemological system, if a propositional truth statement yields a beneficial result, it has earned for itself the right to be properly deemed true. If it does not yield the expected result, it is assumed to be demonstrably false. James’ Pragmatism was “an attempt to find meaning by tracing the practical consequences of a concept or notion.”[2] Ultimately, according to James, there can be no intrinsic or absolute truth. As James explains, “Truth happens to an idea.”[3] The truth of an idea cannot be discovered, then, until an idea has already been employed and its consequences measured.

The means by which this truth is discovered is that of experience. Enter John Dewey. Dewey carried the banner for James’ particular brand of Pragmatism, and sought specifically to apply it in his own field of expertise: education. Dewey was so committed to the Pragmatic notion of discovering the truth of an idea by observing its consequences, that he sought to exclude anything from the educational process that might stand between the student and the idea itself. The role of the teacher, then, became that of facilitator. Dewey argued:

“When education is based upon experience and educative experience is seen to be a social process, the situation changes radically. The teacher loses the position of external boss or dictator but takes on that of leader of group activities.”[4]

Dewey did not believe there was any “such thing as educational value in the abstract.”[5] That is to say that there is no good and proper result of education except that which results from a good and proper education. Considering that “traditional” education operates from the foundation of absolute truth and abstract universals, it will always guide its students toward its preconceived conclusions. The goal of an experience-based education (a pragmatic education) is to allow the students to arrive at their own conclusions, though in a safe environment, apart from any possible bias influencing their assessment of the data provided. The idea is to provide the student community with plenty of data and rewarding enough results at the end of each experiment to keep them trekking ever forward toward newer and better experiences all the time, the only satisfactory goal of any proper education, according to Dewey.

The problem of Pragmatism. Such a system ultimately leads its subjects into a perpetual cycle of searching for the truth with the presupposition that such truth is only as true as the one experiencing it. Thus, each subsequent generation must artificially be provided with similar experiences in order that the ‘truths’ of the previous generations might be handed down. Otherwise, each generation’s search for truth will have ended with the truths they supposedly discovered through their experiences being lost to the passing of time through subsequent generations who have not benefitted from the same experiences.

The pragmatist must either artificially recreate situations that he believes came to him by chance in order to propagate the truth that he supposedly discovered through said process or in the end suffer the loss of all that came to him by way of the pragmatic method of discovering truth. At the end of the day, the core tenant of Pragmatism is the idea that previous generations offer nothing to the current one, except perhaps some hypocritical assertion that certain situations lead to proper truth, while others do not. Of course, the assertion that those situations are more optimal for the discovery of truth will only be proven by way of the testing of the generations to follow. Such reasoning dies the death of a thousand deaths.

The end of Pragmatism. Ultimately, this insistence upon experience as the basis for any proper acquiescence of true knowledge leads to a recognition, on the part of pragmatists, of many of their own limitations. Recognition of personal limitations, subsequently, leads to a certain natural dependency upon an expert class: those who have had better or more accredited experiences in the field in question. In a nation like America where there is no aristocracy or ruling class, these few intellectuals quickly become the ruling class by way of monopoly of expertise, and they often go largely unquestioned. After all, they are the experts. Who are the masses to question their experience?

Observing the era that witnessed the rise of men like James and Dewey, Hofstadter boasted, “The most abstracted of scholars could derive a sense of importance from belonging to a learned community which the larger world was compelled to consult in its quest for adequate means of social control.”[6] Hofstadter was interested in seeing the rise of an elite intellectual class that would rule over society with their superior intellect and expertise. However, Christian intellectualism, as propagated by such thinkers as Harry Blamires and Mark Noll, seeks to incite intellectual interest in every member of the Christian community, and to encourage them to seek answers in the unchanging, unfailing truth that finds its source in the Trinitarian God of the Christian Bible. Hofstadter’s intellectualism feeds off of American Pragmatism, whereas true Christian intellectualism can find no greater enemy.

[1]William James, Pragmatism (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), 92.

[2]Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2008).

[3]James, Pragmatism, 92.

[4]John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 59.

[5]Ibid., 46.

[6]Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Vintage Books (New York: Random House, 1963), 205.

Pragmatic Churches and Pastoral Ministry Students, Pragmatism in History:

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

Though the early figures in the history of pragmatism did not have a working system of philosophy called Pragmatism to which they adhered, a minimal definition of pragmatism is necessary from the outset. Pragmatism, minimalistically speaking, is a commitment to the functional and the beneficial over all other considerations. This method of reasoning could be, and has been, applied to many different areas of life: ethics, epistemology, education, government, etc. There are two general rules that guide it: if it is working do not fix it, and if it does not work it is either wrong or there must be something better. In cultures that thrive on immediacy and productivity, such methods of reasoning easily gain dominance.

Pragmatists in Plato’s Greece. Perhaps the earliest group to be accused of using this type of reasoning was a group that surfaced sometime before the life of Plato known as the sophists. Plato was a theist who believed in universal truths he called forms.[1] The sophists of his day were traveling tutors-for-hire who taught a vast array of subjects, but particularly specialized in rhetoric. They were largely comprised of atheists and agnostics[2] who held abstracts such as morality to be largely relative, shunning absolutes. Plato did not hold sophists in a high regard.

Plato argued that the sophists only concerned themselves with persuasion and would use any means possible to arrive at that end. He further argued that they were not concerned with truth, because truth did not always lend itself to persuasion. If Plato’s critique of the sophists was true, they were pragmatists in the truest sense. As a man who valued virtue and absolute values, Plato took issue with this form of pragmatism. Indeed, Plato understood sophistry to result “when men who are unworthy of education approach philosophy and consort her unworthily.”[3]

Pragmatic Governance. This brand of thinking would resurface more than a millennium later in the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli. Counseling the princely class in much the same way as the sophists of ancient Greece, Machiavelli argued for a form of governance that primarily concerned itself with results. He insisted, “In all men’s acts, and in those of princes most especially, it is the result that renders the verdict when there is no court of appeal.”[4] Such reasoning in politics would eventually become commonplace in governments worldwide. In many ways, it is still prevalent today.

Pragmatism pervading society. Nearly a century before William James and John Dewey systematized the American philosophy known as Pragmatism, Alexis de Toqueville observed traces of it already in existence in American thought. Toqueville bore witness as laissez-faire capitalism and American rugged individualism began to take shape in the new nation. Breaking from their aristocratic roots in Europe, the Americans were confronted with opportunities to advance out of the long-standing bonds of the feudal system. Alongside these new developments was a growing lack of concern for how one obtained the object of one’s desires. As Toqueville noted, the average American was “aiming for the result without allowing oneself to be shackled to the means.”[5]Americans’ tendency toward pragmatism, then, spawned from a desire for individual advancement in a society built on the prospect of greater opportunity. America’s unique brand of pragmatism spawned from discontentment.

[1]Plato, Republic, trans., G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 3.492-493.

[2]Albert Henrichs, “The Sophists and Hellenistic Religion: Prodicus as the Spiritual Father of the Isis Aretalogies,” in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 88 (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard Univ Pr, 1984), 140.

[3]Plato, Republic, 6.496a.

[4]Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans., Daniel Donno, Bantam Classic (New York: Bantam Dell, 2003), 70.

[5]Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans., Stephen D. Grant (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000), 171.