Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar: A Review

This work by Horatius Bonar, a 19th century Scottish pastor, is all about encouraging its readers to treasure the gospel and to never tire in the labor for the gospel. Bonar’s intended audience are ministers in churches. However, the book may be read by all Christians who desire to see their world impacted for the gospel.

Bonar first calls for ministers to focus on their one object: to win souls. In order to do this, the minister must first be a Christian. This may seem obvious but Bonar presses this point. For him, the minister’s Christianity should not be a stale Christianity. Anyone can do that. The minister’s Christianity must be on fire. In order to do that they must lay aside everything to seek God. They should rise early to seek God before they give their day to anyone else. He states, “Let us seek the Lord early. ‘If my heart be early seasoned with his presence, it will savor of him all day after.'” (p. 10) For Bonar, rising early is focused on prayer, contra most of our contemporary culture which focuses on bible reading. In fact, the remainder of the paragraph deals with prayer.
The minister must focus on his own soul and must walk with God.

Bonar also calls out the laziness of the minister’s in his day (which also calls out our ministers today). He pushes for all ministers to set their hearts on winning lost souls. He writes,

“No; really to give anything to God implies that the will, which is emphatically the heart, has been set on that thing; and if the heart has indeed been set on the salvation of sinners as the end to be answered by the means we use, we can not possibly give up that end without, as we before observed, the heart being severely exercised and deeply pained by the renunciation of the will involved in it. When, therefore, we can be quietly content to use the means for saving souls without seeing them saved thereby, it is because there is no renunciation of the will–that is not real giving up to God in the affair. The fact is, the will-that is, the heart–had never really beens set upon this end; it is had, it could not possibly give up such an end without being broken by the sacrifice…The soul and eternity of one man depends upon the voice of another.” (p. 22 & 24)

This quote was from the most convicting chapter for me. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It demonstrates a very mature, gentle, bold encouragement for the reader to labor diligently in gospel service.

Who Governs the Church?

This is a paper from my internship. Please note, I only have two pages to write this paper. Therefore, my goal is not to be exhaustive. Enjoy!

First, and foremost, Christ Governs the church. He has been appointed head over everything of the church (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18). The church is Christ’s; he bought it with his blood (Col. 1:20). Therefore, the entire church is subject, and should subject themselves, to his authority. This is accomplished through a desire to be obedient to the word of God. Therefore, the church in their obedience should love God, and love his neighbor (Luke 10:27).

Christ has left his Holy Spirit to aid the church in their subjugation to him. The Spirit is to teach and remind the church of the teachings of Christ (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27). Furthermore, Christ’s method of accomplishing this is due to the fact that the Holy Spirit filled the church at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The (local) church as a whole is called to various tasks in scripture that show that the congregation as a whole has authority over its members. Mark Dever points this out in his work, What is a Healthy Church? He states:

…the congregation appears to assume final responsibility. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul blames not the pastors, elders, or deacons for tolerating a man’s sin, but the congregation. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul refers to what a majority of them had done in disciplining an erring member. In Galatians 1, Paul calls on the congregation themselves to judge the false teaching they had been hearing. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reproves not just the false teachers but also those who paid them to teach what their itching ears wanted to hear. (115)

Though Dever uses the term “responsibility,” it would be just as easy to substitute “authority” in its place and not lose its meaning. Therefore, the church, through the guiding of the Holy Spirit, is the authority over the local church gathering. All local churches are then subject to Christ.

This does not mean that all members of the body of the church are equal. There are some that are called out (or appointed—Tit. 1:5–9) that bear a special responsibility to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:2); these members are called “elders.”

Elders should generally bear certain characteristics. 1st Timothy points out that he must be:

above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greed—one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap. (1 Tim 3:2–7)

If someone does not match these qualifications, then they should not be considered as elders.

            Elders also bear a certain responsibility in their ministry to the flock. Elders are called to teach the local church (Acts 29:31; Titus 1:9; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Tim. 5:17). The elder is also supposed to shepherd the flock. This involves teaching, but it also involves protecting the flock from false doctrine (John 10:11–13; Acts 20:29–31), as well as, watching over the needs of the flock (Heb. 13:17; James 5:14). Finally, the elder is charged with leading his flock (Titus 1:7).

            Finally, there should be a plurality of elders. Every passage that speaks of elders speaks of them as more than one elder. (Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14).

A Summary Review: The Faith of a Child by Art Murphy

First, the entirety of the work was not required reading for my internship. Only chapters 2 and 4–7 were required. The topics discussed in these chapters were what the Bible says about children and salvation, understanding a child’s faith, how to know if they have become a Christian, leading a child to Christ, and finally the roles of parents and teachers.

With just a quick scan of the contents it quickly becomes obvious that this work is attempting to recognize when a child is coming to faith. The main goal of the work is to help a parent/teacher understand how to nurture this in a child and balance that fine line between affirming that a child has come to faith when they have not; and discouraging a child from becoming a Christian when they are on the verge.

This is why Murphy devotes a great deal of space to understanding what the bible says about children and salvation, and how to recognize the beginnings of faith in Christ. Perhaps the most helpful of Murphy’s illustrations is relating spiritual birth to physical birth. First, the baby grows in the womb. The baby is not born at this time, but it is stage of preparation for the life. He encourages parents and teachers to wait during this time, affirm the child in their questions about God, as well as their attention to spiritual things. The goal during this stage is to nurture the child’s understanding of God and the gospel.

Overall, Murphy’s work is mainly focused on recognizing when a child has questions about God and Jesus. When someone recognizes this the main goal is to nurture the child by positively responding to them and helping them understand what the bible teaches about God and the gospel. All the time working towards what he calls a full-term birth. This would be when the child is fully ready to convert to Christianity.

While Murphy spends some time on how an adult should communicate with a child, the majority focuses on understanding conversion biblically and applying that to the development of a child mentally (and spiritually).

A Summary Review: Leading Kids to Faith by David Staal

This is part of my reading for my internship. I have to read some on the conversion of children. This is the first work on this subject that I had to read. This is not an exhaustive review but more of a summary with brief reaction.

The goal of this work seeks to prepare parents, grandparents, and Sunday school teachers to be able to share the gospel “with clear age-appropriate explanations of God’s timeless truth and limitless love.” (10) Its main focus is on informing teachers how to present the gospel message in a meaningful way to children. Staal encourages teachers to use words that kids would understand by avoiding Christian clichés (e.g. asking Jesus into your heart). Also, he wants teachers to understand that children do not have to have an exhaustive understanding of the gospel in order to be saved.

For Staal there are four important aspects of the gospel that children must understand. First, are some basic attributes of God. He is holy, loving, and just. Second would be an understanding of man. All men are sinners and cannot save ourselves. Third, is Christ and his incarnation, holiness, his substitutionary atonement, and resurrection. Finally, the child must understand that a decision has to be made in order to accept Christ and be forgiven of sin.

Overall, the work had many practical ways to communicate the gospel with children. Most helpful was the help in writing a “kid-friendly” testimony to share with the children. Preparing a testimony/lesson with kids in mind will hopefully help someone be mindful of the way kids may understand the words they use. No teacher will be perfect at this at first, but the exercise may help them prepare to help kids understand the gospel.

Despite the practicality of the work, the book needs some depth in the gospel message. While it is important to simplify the language used to communicate the gospel to children it is also helpful for the teacher to understand what really shows that someone has indeed become a Christian. This book, unlike the one by Art Murphy which will be reviewed in the next post, lacked this type of depth. The majority of the work was mainly devoted to how to communicate with children, not so much how to recognize genuine signs to distinguish genuine signs of conversion from general inquisitiveness. In other words, it seemed to be written so that adults could feel more comfortable about teaching children more so than anything else.

The Gospel as the Foundation of the Church

This is an assignment for my internship. It has to be two pages in length. It leaves a lot to be said. Plus because of procrastination it is not the best.

The term “gospel” specifically refers to the good news that God the father sent the Son taking on human flesh. He was crucified, died, and was raised to life on the third day (1 Cor 15:3–4; 2 Tim 2:8). The message of the gospel is what God uses to draw his people to himself. (Eph 1:13–14; 2:1–8) His people are called the church. If the message of the gospel is not true, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then the faith, message, and mission of the church is worthless (1 Cor 15:13–18). Therefore, the gospel is essential to the church because it is what forms the very nucleus of their existence.

The work of the gospel calls the church to be saints by the power of the gospel (Rom 1:6–7; 1 Cor 1:2). Belief in the gospel, and its subsequent effects, are what mark a person as a member of the universal church. Consequently, someone who does not believe is not a member of the church.

The gospel is what unifies the church in all its work and helps the church to be unified in all of its endeavors for discipleship within the body of the church. The Gospel unifies all ethnicities in faith (Eph 3:6). This unity is because they all partake of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:7). It is the reason that all Christians come together, to celebrate and encourage one another in the gospel (Heb 10:23–25). This is one of the reasons that the church exists, to remind one another to walk in the way fitting of the gospel. Not only does the gospel reconcile the church to God, but it also should be the impetus for reconciliation amongst believers (Phil 4:3). It is also what unifies all of the church in the sufferings that come from those who persecute the church (2 Tim 1:8–13).

The gospel is not only essential to the church in its being called out and its unity, but also in its mission. That mission is to make disciples of all nations (Mat 28:19–20). This includes both the proclamation of the gospel (Rom 10:14–15) and a devotion to mature teaching of the word of God (Acts 2:42; 1 Pet 2:2). All of this is unified around the message of the gospel.

The Church is not alone in its mission the Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit along with the gospel to convict the world of its sins (1 Thes 1:5) and it converts them to believe the message of the gospel (Col 1:3–6). This both builds the church and helps it along with its mission.

The gospel then is the lifeblood of the church. It is the very foundation of what they believe, indeed it is what has called them to salvation. It is the very thing with which, despite its differences, the church finds unity around. It is the message that the church carries to the ends of the earth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Am I Called?–A Reaction Paper

What follows is my reaction paper to the work “Am I called?” by Dave Harvey. He has a book on this subject, but this is a shorter, fifty eight page article. Please be kind, its the first one I have written like this ever. 🙂

“Am I called? Discerning the Summons to Ministry” by Dave Harvey explores the way in which men are called to lead churches. The central question of the article is, “how do I know if I am called?” The article is written to a wide spectrum of men who desire to be leaders of the church. From those who feel a strong call, to those who have never felt inclined to lead the church. I agree with the main thrust of the article that the call that comes from God is first to the gospel; it is the gospel that equips men to lead the church and that the church must recognize this call.

Even though I agree with the general thrust of the article, there were several areas where Harvey’s article challenged and matured my thinking on this subject. The first area was his stress on the one who calls. He quotes Os Guinness who writes, “First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).” (7) Since I have been at SEBTS one of the tendencies I have seen amongst students is that they hold to their call sometimes more dearly than the one who called him. Many preachers from the pulpit in chapel have urged me to hold on to my call in those difficult and dark times in the ministry. The exhortation from Harvey is important because it calls us to focus on someone, (Christ) rather than on something only concerning ourselves. Christ is the one who delivers us from the realm of darkness, he is our comforter, and he is the one who is sovereign.

Similar to this, Harvey warns his readers that the most important part of the Christian walk is not their call. He writes, “I am one with Christ, and no matter what happens with any specific sense of calling I may have, the most important and meaningful thing about me is the essential reality of my union with Christ.” (7) Unity with Christ is the most important aspect of a calling to ministry not the call.

Recently I had a missionary friend who felt called to missions. There was some question as to whether she would be able to return to the field due to medical issues. She said to me, “I will be mad at God if I cannot go back.” This type of thinking about someone’s call deeply saddens me. It seems that the call has become an idol in the place of God, and since it is a good thing we do not notice what we have done. Of course, the only way that I know this is because at one time I saw this error in my own sinful heart. Harvey’s exhortation that our unity in Christ is more important than our call is a good reminder that we, or perhaps our call, are not the central part of our lives—God is.

            Finally, Harvey’s section on the church being the context from which God calls men out, dealt with the individualism of the modern day church which sees the call as personal endeavor. He writes, “In the individualistic culture of Western Christianity, in particular; the institution of the church is being replaced by the institution of the self-contained believer.” (9–10)  The individual Christian feels the call (perhaps), but who is it that confirms the call? Images of the Robert Duvall in The Apostle flashed before my mind at this point. In that movie Duvall’s character baptizes himself and apoints himself as an apostle. While is a fictitious event, the fiction is far to close to the way that the call is treated in many churches today. It has been my experience that some men (or women) will hold to their call despite how the church may be guiding them.

God placed ministry within the church, and it is the church that must lovingly recognize whom is called to lead. Harvey states, “The church selects its leaders based upon evident grace, a grace present prior to a formal call to the ministry. So often, leadership identification or training begins with education, charisma, or need.” (12) Though these are not bad characteristics for someone to possess, they are not listed anywhere in scripture. The church, in its encouragement and selection of leaders should be looking for the requirements of leadership laid out in scripture. Harvey spends a good amount of space devoted to this aspect final part of his article.

Harvey’s article was a good reminder to focus on who has called me out of the world of darkness; to find my identity in Christ and not in my gifting, call, or vocation; and to allow the church to recognize and encourage those gifts in me when the time is right. I would recommend this to anyone, whether they were called to leadership within the church, missions, or even keeping the children on Sunday morning.

Ulfilas Dufilas, Kids, and My Internship

I am a little exited about the internship  I will be part of this year at my church. Of course, who isn’t excited at the beginning of something new. Ask me in a few months how I feel about it and things may be a little different. Life has a funny way about it when it comes to new endeavors. Excitement begins, then reality hits and we want out. Rarely do the great things undertaken ever feel like they are great and wonderful while they are happening.

Now I am not calling what I am doing in the internship a great thing. But, I do have some good tasks laid before me for the upcoming year. Apart from the regular readings, meetings, and fellowship, I have been assigned a project. My job is to help out with the curriculum for some children’s outreach.

Now, I know some of you are already laughing at the thought of my working with kids. I mean, here’s a guy who tutors Hebrew, reads it every morning (not very willingly most mornings), and reads scholarly works like, The Deuteronomistic History by Martin Noth, for fun. He will be attempting to write for kids!? HI-larious!

As entertaining as that may be, you should realize that working with kids is not a new task for me. I have far more experience teaching children in a church setting than adults. I taught Royal Ambassadors for years, led many Vacation Bible School classes, children’s Sunday school classes, and a Good News Bible Club after school, just to name a few…

Now, I am not listing these credentials as if to say, “I am the man for the job!” Quite the contrary. I have a great deal to learn about teaching children. But, I am not starting from scratch.  I have little experience in working with kids. I am excited to put that experience to good use and watch it mature over the course of the year.

Because I have worked with kids I don’t take this task lightly. Kids can sometimes be the hardest to teach. Not because it is hard to keep their attention (actually we adults often get in our own way here), but because they’ll ask the questions that adults are too scared or embarrassed to ask. In fact, they can be the most inquisitive theologians. And if the teaching deals with the deep questions that every kid is asking (like, “is God really real?”), the answers we give them will be memorable to them.

Back when I was teaching RAs my buddy Wes and I decided that we would go through church history with the kids (1st grade through 6th). One night I was teaching on the martyrdom of Polycarp. As I was telling them about his death one of the kids just interrupted and said, “That’s not going to work!”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He replied, “I don’t want to die!”

Immediately he had taken Polycarp’s death and applied it to his own situation. He understood that Polycarp’s death was because Polycarp believed in Christ. The kid believed in Christ. Would he die too?

When all the other kids heard the word “die” the room grew silent and all eyes were glued on me. It was unexpected and I was taken aback for a few moments, but I knew that all I had was about thirty seconds to explain the preciousness of Christ. I don’t remember all that was said, but I know the gist, that Christ more precious than anything else in this world. And I hope those kids took that with them when they left. They continued to talk about Polycarp for a few weeks (until we got to Ulfilas, then was Ufilas Dufilas—as in doofus).

In all the classes that I taught, both adult classes and children’s classes, it is that moment, that I remember most vividly. The looks on the kids faces, and the realization that believing in Jesus might cost them their life is etched into my memory. When I am old and Alzheimery, I’ll still remember that night.

The only difference this year will be writing/editing children’s curriculum. My writing abilities will be brought into it a bit (I hope). I’m excited about this. Being a quiet man who doesn’t force himself on others in conversation too much; I have found writing to be a far more comfortable endeavor than conversation with complete strangers . And now, being able to use writing in this way excites me!