Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Joshua Harris

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.’

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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.

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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!

Why I Can’t Wait to Learn from Mike Bullmore

The Toronto Pastors Conference is only days away… if you’re not coming, you’ll be missing out!

When we were planning the conference and we first invited Mike Bullmore to come I thought to myself ‘A lot of people probably won’t know who Mike Bullmore is. So how can we fix that?’

One step we took was to ask a few friends for recommendations and endorsements of Mike. We asked last year’s conference speaker, Mark Dever, along with pastor Joshua Harris and professor, speaker, and leader of the Gospel Coalition, Don Carson. Here’s what each of them had to say about we should listen carefully to Mike Bullmore:

Don Carson said: “Mike Bullmore is not as well known as some because he has written relatively little — but he is one of the most engaging, penetrating, insightful preachers I know. Moreover, the quality of his mentoring of young men in the church he serves is simply stellar.”

 

 

Joshua Harris wrote: “Mike Bullmore is one of the best kept secrets in the larger body of Christ today. He is a masterful, passionate, precise teacher of God’s word. I’ve described him as a cross between John Piper and CJ Mahaney. And I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay a preacher.”

 

 

Mark Dever told us: “Mike Bullmore is a pastor who has both been instrumental in beginning a new congregation, and has faithfully pastored a congregation for years. He’s not only taught preaching in the classroom, but he’s mentored young preachers and pastors for years. I’m excited that pastors in Toronto will get the opportunity to enjoy Mike’s humble wisdom and his careful, encouraging preaching.”

 

 

 

To all that I simply say, that is why I can’t wait to learn from Mike Bullmore! Make sure you register now if you haven’t yet!

 

Do Hard Things… Like Thinking Through Modesty

At a meeting last week we decided that it would be a good idea for the youth of our church to go through the book Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris. It looks awesome, and I’m really excited for our youth to study it. Here’s the thrust of the book:

Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility, the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact. 

In preparation for this meeting, I was doing some research on books that the youth could do when I found the website for this book.

It’s great!

They offer all kinds of stuff. There’s info on the book, a blog, info on the conferences they put on, etc. There’s even a study guide that you can download as a pdf to use the book in group contexts, like we want to do.

One of the great things that I found was this: A modesty survey. I was sceptical at first, but it is really useful! I would gladly add it to my list of recommended resources on the modesty issue. I love that they’re tackling this issue with young ladies–again, aiming to ‘set a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact.’

Here’s what the site says about the survey: ‘Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007.’ The different ways you can look at and analyze the results gives some great insight. Take some time and look it through.

‘It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author, Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author of Every Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).’

What they (and the guys filling out the survey) hope to affirm to Christian ladies is this:

As a Christian guy with a deep appreciation for feminine modesty, I hereby affirm and commend the following biblical truths to my sisters in Christ:

  • Please, approach the survey as a resource, not a list of rules.
  • Always honour your parents above the results of the survey. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Seek personal feedback on your attire from the godly men and women in your life.
  • Remember, modesty is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not the wardrobe.
  • Faithfully pursue the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:4)
  • Let your good works outshine your outward appearance. (1 Timothy 2:10)
  • Dress for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

What better goals could their be in dressing than honouring parents, esteeming brothers, and desiring the glory of God?

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries) with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I’ve been mulling over the issues with regards to the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts. Here are some random thoughts I’ve been chewing on…

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign’ gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the ‘moral / civil / ceremonial’ categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can’t help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they’re not, aren’t we closing our ears to God’s words to us? Aren’t we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they’re not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God’s mouth is that something we can afford to call ‘secondary’? I don’t see how. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name…

4. ‘But they’re not the New Testament gifts…’. This was one of Tim’s (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, ‘so what if they’re different?’ Again, I don’t want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don’t we often argue that the book of Acts is more ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met ‘day by day’ anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I’ve been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They’re just things I’m contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

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