Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Church (page 2 of 12)

Are We Suffocating Christian Children?

Are We Asking the Wrong Question?

Last week Tim posted an interesting collection of articles relating to the issue of baptism. Specifically, the issue being debated was, ‘At what age should we baptize?’ That in itself is an interesting question, because it is one that the Bible never asks or answers. Age is never given as a prerequisite for baptism, nor is it listed as even being a hindrance to baptism. It’s simply a non-issue.

The wrong question is, ‘What age?’ The right question is, ‘Does this person make profession of repentance and faith?’

What Are We Afraid of?

Nevertheless, wisdom and pastoral experience must be brought to bear on an issue that has certainly brought some level of difficulty and pain into the lives of many people. Right?

In all of the discussions I’ve read over the years on this topic, one of the nagging questions that keeps coming back to me is this: ‘What are we afraid of?’ I think that the answer is sadly, not a biblical one. Oftentimes it appears that we’re just afraid of being wrong. We think, ‘What if we baptize someone who ends up not really being converted? Then what?’ Our minds turn then to problems of ‘re-baptism’ and giving false assurance.

Isn’t This a Healthy Fear?

But we ought not be afraid of this, I think, for at least two reasons.

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Don’t Pastor Like Adam

This should go without saying, but we must not pastor like Adam. It should go without saying, but because we live in a fallen world, and our hearts are prone to forgetting what we know, I need to remind myself not to pastor like Adam.

Adam Had a Charge

In Genesis 2, when Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden he was given a specific command by God. As the ‘priest and protector’ of the  Garden (the dwelling place of God with man), and the one who had received the commission directly, Adam was to ensure that as he ‘filled the earth and subdued it’, those who filled the earth knew of this command.
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Grace Connexion!

The Grace Connexion

One of the greatest blessings I have known in my time pastoring is the fellowship I’ve been able to have with other pastors. The accountability, the friendship, the collective wisdom of more-experienced brothers, and the perspective they have provided has had huge benefits for my soul (and I’m sure for the life of our church as well). I’m well aware that there are many pastors who go many years without having such fellowship with peers, and so I want to give thanks to God for allowing me to have relationships with godly pastors in my first years of pastoring.

That has been great. But I’m eager to pass it on as well. I want our church to have fellowship like that with brothers and sisters! I want our people to know that the church of Jesus is bigger than our little work in Don Mills.

That’s one of the reasons why I love having our church get together with other churches from around the city of Toronto. Fellowship, friendship, partnership, worship together. We get to celebrate what God is doing in calling a people to himself in Toronto.

‘The Grace Connexion’ (name taken from here) is simply a semi-annual event held by four local evangelical churches. Twice per year Grace Fellowship Church Rexdale, Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills, New City Baptist (downtown), and Grace Chapel (Markham) get our people together to worship and sit under the ministry of the word — and then enjoy some fellowship together. I love these events!

This year, we’ll be holding a Grace Connexion service on Monday, February 20, at Richview Baptist Church. We planned it for Family Day so that as many people could come as possible. We’ll be having our worship service, then enjoying lunch together, then taking the Lord’s Supper. What a glorious opportunity for fellowship with believers outside of our own local church!

If you live in or near the city and you’re interested in joining with us, click below for details. If you’re a member of any of these churches, please make sure you get all the details, then RSVP so we know how much food to bring.

I’m so thankful for the chance to see Christ building his church close-up. I can’t wait to see all our brothers and sisters on February 20!

Looking for a Great Church in Toronto?

** Updated: October 30, 2014 **

Sometimes the assumption is that church planters plant churches because they believe what they will do is better than what has come before. Sometimes church plants do actually think their church is the only real church around. Sometimes church planters envision themselves as being the saviour of their city. Thankfully, that’s not the case with our church plant.

I’m so thankful to God to be able to write this post and actually have something to say about good churches in the Greater Toronto Area. There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t know that many great churches to recommend. Now, however, by God’s grace, there are many churches I would happily recommend in and around our city. Of course, there is always a need for more great churches and more godly, Christ-exalting, gospel-loving, church-planting pastors. But I think God is at work in our city, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Below is a list and a map. The list is broken down into different categories.

Our Church

Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills

I’m a little bit partial to this one, as it’s the church where I serve. Our church was planted in Don Mills in January 2011. I happen to love this place most of all. The people of this church love their Saviour. I count it pure joy to be one of them.

Churches with whom We Are Organically Connected

Grace Fellowship Church Rexdale

Founding pastor Paul Martin has served the church since it’s plant in 2000. I was a founding member and know no other church like this one. I was a member for 10 years and was pastored by Paul for 3 years before that. Since I left, Tim Challies has come on to serve in the full-time ministry there as well, and I recommend his ministry as highly as anyone I can think of. I cannot recommend this church enough. Sound doctrine, genuine fellowship, authentic worship, and biblical expository preaching. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this church.

New City Baptist Church

Planted by my good friend John Bell with the support and commissioning of GFC Rexdale. I’ve known John for years and still feel like I have much to learn from him. I’ve been blessed to watch this church grow under his leadership. You will be blessed by the teaching and the fellowship at this wonderful church in the downtown core.

Churches whose Pastors I Know and Trust

  • Sovereign Grace Church Toronto – Pastor Tim Kerr is one of the godliest men I have ever had the privilege of meeting. This church is associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a Reformed Charismatic church plant meeting in King City.
  • West Toronto Baptist Church – Pastor Justin Galotti is a close friend of mine whom I highly respect. He is labouring to renew this urban church in a part of the city that is close to my heart (the West Toronto Junction).
  • Westminster Chapel – Pastor Joe Boot is well-known both nationally and internationally. The church has recently moved to the High Park area.
  • Grace Toronto Church – Trained and sent by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Pastor Dan MacDonald is a gifted communicator, evangelist, and theologian. He has a heart for the city and this church has grown tremendously under his ministry.
  • Liberty Grace Church – Led by my friends Darryl Dash and Nathan Fullerton, Liberty Grace is a church plant opening its doors to reach the Liberty Village neighbourhood with the gospel of Jesus in September 2013.
  • Thistletown Baptist Church – Another church in Rexdale pastored by my friend Hassan Bell, who I know as a man who deeply loves the church and her Saviour
  • Covenant Baptist Church – Pastored by Chris Powell, Covenant just celebrated their 40th anniversary of ministry in the city of Toronto.
  • Harvest Durham Region – Pastor Ian Hales has been used of God to work mightily in the lives of some of my friends. I know him to be a humble, gracious, gospel-loving brother.
  • Harvest Brampton – A church plant of the Harvest Bible Fellowship out of Harvest Oakville. This plant is led by Chris Shippley, a personal friend and a godly man.
  • Mount Pleasant Road Baptist Church – Pastor Lucien Atchale is a friend of mine from seminary days and they are placed in a strategic location for reaching the city.
  • Harvest Oakville – Pastor Robbie Symons is a man whose love for Jesus is so evident and joy-filled that it is contagious
  • Harvest Toronto West – Another church plant of the Harvest Bible Fellowship out of Harvest Oakville. This plant is led by Jason Matta and launched in 2013.
  • Faith Reformed Baptist Church – I have known Pastor Brian Robinson for many years and have been blessed to witness his faithfulness in preaching the word and loving the people of God on the east end of Scarborough.

And the map to prove it…

View Great Churches in Toronto in a larger map

What about you?

What churches have I missed? Are there other great churches in Toronto? Anything you’d add to what I’ve said?

Five Thoughts & a White Flag: Now Time to Listen

Dr John MacArthur

Five quick wrap-up thoughts before I wave the white flag, pull up a chair, and receive the rest of the series from Dr. MacArthur on how the ‘Young, Restless, Reformed’ movement needs to ‘grow up.’

1. After observing the comments I’ve seen that MacArthur was right.

There is a real part of our movement who simply aren’t willing to move past feeling misunderstood to genuinely learn from John MacArthur, an older man. We need to do that. That was the point of my first post. Though it’s hard, we need to listen.

2. After observing the comments I’ve seen that I was more right than I thought.

John MacArthur’s sometimes harsh tone has created a movement of people, some of whom (note: definitely not all), are also characterized by a harsh tone. In their minds MacArthur has earned the right to speak the way he has and they are in agreement with him, so now they get to speak to the rest of us in harsh tones. We can never be too careful about the things we get excited about as leaders, because those will invariably be the things our followers get excited about. Some of the vitriol from the rabid MacArthur supporters has actually served to prove my point, and the arrogance of some of the commenters who say they are with MacArthur actually makes it harder to listen to the man himself.

Nevertheless, we  all—especially me—need to fight the urge to defend ourselves. We need to swallow our pride and listen to MacArthur. I want to actually hear the man, not be distracted by some of the misguided enthusiasm of some of his followers.

3. While the biblical standard is the younger receiving counsel from the older, the Scriptures are replete with examples to the contrary. Only a foolish person closes his ear completely.

I don’t know Dr. MacArthur personally, but in conversation with someone who has worked closely with MacArthur I’ve learned that he actually does receive and process criticism. Praise God! I’m greatly encouraged to hear that! I hope that he continues to hear us as we continue to hear him. We can both, then, let the ‘clean sea breeze’ of the generations clear our minds and refresh our thinking so that all in the body may be served and blessed by each other. My concern in this point, then, isn’t so much for Dr. MacArthur as for many of his followers who might be tempted to think they have nothing to learn from those outside their camp.

4. A final appeal to Dr. MacArthur (but especially to his team): Please, we want to hear you; don’t treat us like the enemy.

Mocking isn’t cool. It doesn’t help. Don’t make this an ‘us’ and ‘them’ thing. We’re on the same team. Don’t tell us ‘listen like men’ as if we’re all immature sissies. Some of us are doing really hard things for Jesus (I’m speaking of others here, not myself). Yeah, we need to be corrected, but we need to be corrected in love. And just speaking truth doesn’t make it loving. Tone, posture, and approach  all matter too.

And by the way, there are more than just men in our movement. I tend to think women are pretty adept at theological conversation as well. Don’t remove them from the equation so quickly.

5. After all is said and done, I’m more eager than ever to try to hear MacArthur.

Being misunderstood by many of the commenters in my previous post has renewed my conviction to be a careful and discerning listener, weighing what is said, and taking into account from whom I’m hearing it (2 Tim 3). Dr. MacArthur is a proven faithful preacher and exegete. I’m not. So I want to listen to him—and listen in such a way as to learn; even if it’s hard.

You Just Don’t Get Me…

Scoldings are hard to hear. Especially when you feel misunderstood.

I’m really having a hard time obeying Tim Challies. He told us that we need to listen to John MacArthur. MacArthur has begun a series critiquing the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement and Tim says we need to listen to him because he’s older, wiser, and proven. He has perspective and experience that we do not. He has seen more, lived more, and earned the right to speak.

I agree. But man, it’s hard to hear.

I talked to Tim about it. The best analogy I could give him (ironically enough) is that of a young adult being scolded by a parent. When I read MacArthur’s post I can’t help but feel that he’s the dad who is disappointed in how I’ve turned out (i.e. I’m not like him) and I’m the son who thinks, ‘My father just doesn’t get me.’

MacArthur’s opening comments about the positive things in the movement feel condescending — you know he is about to lower the boom. And then he does. And it’s so predictable. When Tim first mentioned to me that MacArthur would be doing this series the first thing that came into my mind was this: ‘He’s going to tell us to dress in suits.’ And then I thought, ‘Don’t be so harsh. Go in with an open mind. Be ready to hear.’ So I read. And this is what I read:

But for heaven’s sake don’t dress for hardball. HCo. clothes and hipster hair are essential tools of contextualization. The more casual, the better. Distressed, grunge-patterned T-shirts and ripped jeans are perfect. You would not want anyone to think you take worship as seriously as, say, a wedding or a court appearance. Be cool. Which means (of course) that you mustn’t be perceived as punctilious about matters of doctrine or hermeneutics. But whatever you do, donot fail to pay careful attention to Abercrombie & Fitch.

And yes, the italics are his. The one paragraph italicized and set apart from the rest. And it’s about clothes. Really? And then he adds this:

I sometimes think no group is more fashion-conscious than the current crop of hipster church planters—except perhaps teenage girls.

Was that really necessary? Is that really going to win a hearing with the crowd he’s ‘admonishing’? Or is it merely a dig so that all the MacArthurites around the world can rejoice that they’ve struck down another foe?

I feel like he doesn’t get me. It seems like he’s so angry at Mark Driscoll that he hasn’t taken the time to get to know me. Like the father who thinks his son is the same as the rock stars on MTV. That’s Driscoll, not me.

Sure, for some fashion may be a thing. But it’s not for me. I just don’t care about clothes, as long as things are done decently and in order. Even his analogies fall short. A lot of people in our generation don’t wear suits to weddings or to court. Or to funerals for that matter. It’s not that I pay careful attention to Abercrombie; it’s just that I don’t think what I wear to church is nearly so crucial to the gospel as you.

This series seemed to me like it could be a really good thing. I honestly was looking forward to reading it, once I preached some truth to my heart. But this tone and these opening observations make it hard. Very, very hard.

But now here’s the most frustrating part for me. When a wise parent scolds, the wise child listens. Even when the child feels self-assured. In life I’ve seen this. Things that older parents and older Christians have told me — though I didn’t believe them when I was younger — have proven to be true as I’ve grown up. And I’m sure, in some senses, even though I may hate what MacArthur says now, I need to grin and bear it. I know we need to grow up as a movement. I know I need to grow up as a man. And if a proven man like MacArthur can’t scold me, then who can?

If I listen only to those who agree with me, is that to my credit? Even the pharisees do that…

Reducing to One Practice

I am so thankful for churches like Covenant Life Church who are faithfully teaching the gospel, not only as the way to be saved, but also as the foundation for living in the world here and now. They do not only teach by words, but by the actions of the leaders, what it means to continually be challenged and changed by the Spirit of God as he works through the word of God to bring the gospel to bear on our lives in this fallen world.

At a recent members’ meeting, Josh Harris, the lead pastor, shared some areas with the church where God has been calling the leaders to repentance and to change — and to lead in the changing of the church culture. Josh walks a fine line of appreciating God’s grace and faithfulness to them through their history, but also acknowledging where patterns have emerged that have become counter-productive to gospel-living and gospel-fellowship.

You can read the whole statement he made to the church here.

In particular, I found this section compelling, because it puts into words what I’ve seen in so many churches (not just Covenant Life), but haven’t been able to express nearly so well. Here is their confession, with an explanation of how they’re striving to ‘reduce to practice’ without ‘reducing to one practice.’


Reducing To One Practice

For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice. A principle is a clear teaching or imperative from God’s Word. A practice is a specific action or decision that seeks to apply a principle.

So for example, Scripture clearly teaches that husbands should love and cherish their wives (Eph. 5).

But how two Christian husbands put this same principle into practice can differ. One Christian can apply this principle by taking his wife out to dinner every Wednesday. But another husband might find time to communicate with and express affection for his wife with a walk around the neighborhood each night. They’re both honoring a biblical principle, but their practice is different.

One of the historic strengths of Covenant Life has been in putting principles into practice. We want to be, as James 1:22 says, not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word. May this never change! May we be a church community that takes God’s Word seriously and applies it to our lives.

Having said this, a strength in application can also be a weakness if we’re not careful. Here’s what I mean: if we elevate a single practice and invest it with the authority of biblical principle, we can place a rule or burden on people that isn’t actually commanded in God’s Word. For example, it wouldn’t be helpful if we said that the Bible teaches that couples need to go on a date every Wednesday. It’s a fine idea, but it’s not a scriptural command.

C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.

But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.

Here are a few categories that members of the church have shared with us where they felt a single practice was over-emphasized in an unhelpful way:

  • Dating and courtship
  • Going away to college
  • Girls and college
  • Women’s Bible studies
  • Women working outside the home

In each of these areas Christians can have differing practices and yet honor biblical principles. But in various ways I think we “reduced to only one practice,” and at times that brought the unintended consequence of people feeling the pressure that there was only one truly godly way to do things.

So for example, to honor biblical principles of purity, you had to practice courtship according to ideas in my books. Or to love the local church you shouldn’t go away to college but stay local. Or to value the leadership and teaching of the pastors, you shouldn’t attend outside Bible studies. Or to practice biblical femininity, you shouldn’t pursue higher education or work outside the home.

All this is a disservice to you for several reasons. First, because it doesn’t teach you to grapple with God’s Word for yourself. We want you to study God’s Word yourself, see the biblical principles clearly, and put them into practice based on a clear conviction, not the conviction of someone else.

This is also a problem because it can lead to a legalistic environment where some people are more concerned with what other people practice than with the sufficiency of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Reducing to only one practice has also resulted in people feeling judged by others for not having the same practice.

One of the realizations we’re coming to as pastors is that we can do a better job in teaching the principle of Christian liberty taught in passages like Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8-9. The principle of Christian liberty is that as followers of Christ we have freedom to make decisions about matters that are not revealed or mandated in Scripture without fear of sinning against God.

We can do a better job of teaching that one person’s or one pastor’s practice of wisdom is not God’s law and shouldn’t bind another person’s conscience.

We all need to wrestle with questions of wisdom. We all need to humbly seek to practice biblical principles and then discuss our differences with each other charitably and humbly. But we cannot as a church make everyone adopt the same practice. No matter how wise we think our practice might be, we can’t invest it with the authority of God’s Word.

We want to do a better job of teaching the principles of God’s Word and encouraging you as individuals and families to apply the Word as you see fit before the Lord. We still want to encourage each other to put God’s truth into practice. But we also want to emphasize the freedom we have as individuals and families to have different practices of the very same principle. We want to cultivate an even greater culture of grace even as we strive for holiness.


Amen! And may God make Grace Fellowship Church such a church, which seeks to be practical, but not legalistic, led by leaders who are humble enough to admit their mistakes and strive to do better for the sake of the kingdom!

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