29 August, 2005

Plucking Our Heart Strings

I thought that since we are on the topic of music and worship I would bring these thinkers to the forefront. These thoughts are not generally considered amongst today's Chrsitians. There was a time when all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ would be thinking about the way in which we are to approach a holy God who is to be feared.

Part of living a well thought out life is thinking about all areas of life and asking yourself, "how does this please God? Or does it?"

As the use of musical instruments, in public worship, has no sanction in the New Testament, nor in the practice of the Christian church for several hundred years after its erection, it shall not be introduced, under any form, into any of the churches. —The Associate Reformed Synod, The Government, Discipline, and Worship, of the Associate Reformed Church in North America. (1799).

As the use of musical instruments in the worship of the New Testament Church has no sanction in the Bible, they shall not be introduced, in any form, in any of our congregations. —United Presbyterian Church of North America, from “Singing of Praise” in The Directory for Worship (1858).

In the same name and by the same authority, that of the Lord Christ, I debar ministerially all impenitent violators of the second commandment; all who, while they professedly worship the true God, do not recognize and act upon the principle that God alone has the right to prescribe the institutes of his own worship;…who worship God by proxy, with choirs and organs. All so sinning and not repenting, are forbidden to approach the table of the Lord. —S. Bowden (minister, Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America), “Debarring and Inviting Service,” in Memorial Volume. Covenant Renovation by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. Published by Order of the Synod (1872).

In regard to the musical part of divine worship, this synod [Synod of Drenthe], as also those of 1578 [Dordrecht] and 1581 [Middelburg], inveighed in very strong language against the playing of organs before, during and after service. It was said to minister to superstition, and it was denounced as a Jewish, a heathenish, and a Papistical custom. In 1589, this question gave occasion for a bitter dispute between the ministers and the magistrates of Arnheim. —Maurice G. Hansen (minister and historian, Reformed Church in America [Dutch]), The Reformed Church in the Netherlands. Traced from A.D. 1340 to A.D. 1840 (1884).

Points of Discussion:
- the lawfulness of instruments in worship
-what are the requirements of worship
-what is the history of instruments in your denomination (or the one you broke off of.)

BrianSchwertly's Musical Instruments in the Worship of God

26 August, 2005

A Whore's Wedding Dress

I am not a person that is generally ministered to by popular Christian music. Generally speaking, I am a person that is ministered to by the written word of Christian literature of bygone eras.

Occasionally there comes along a new CD that will catch my eye due to a combination of lyrical content and artistic quality. This YEAR there has been two such CDs. The first was the new Jars of Clay Redemption Songs that does covers (if you can call them that) of Psalms and hymns. This CD is rich is content and it also has new tunes and spins on old tunes that cause the listener to focus on the words. The CD also has a version of Psalm 51 taken from the United Presbyterian Psalter of 1912. This is by far the best song on the CD...it's inspired.

The second CD that has been ministering to me is Derek Webb's She Must and Shall Go Free. This CD is reflections on the Church of Christ and, in Caedmon's Call style, is littered with illusions to Reformed Theology.

The song entitled, Wedding Dress, is one that speaks of the Church and her lack of faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ despite his care for her. The song takes the husband and wife illustration and questions the consequences of infidelity in the marriage. The Church's flippancy towards her corporal sanctification is another theme in the song. This theme should be a thought on all Christians' minds as well as seen in the Church's actions.

Wedding Dress

If you could love me as a wife
and for my wedding gift, your life
Should that be all I’d ever need
or is there more I’m looking for

and should I read between the lines
and look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich, and wise
Is that really what you want

I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle
and I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home
but I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle to you

So could you love this bastard child
Though I don’t trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
I am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers so less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood

Because money cannot buy
a husband’s jealous eye
When you have knowingly deceived his wife.

Discussion Points:

-The power of music on the heart and mind

-The Church's call to be a holy and spotless bride

-Why (most) Christian music is neither excellent in asthetics nor in content

-Reasons why modern (or postmodern) Christians are ministered to through music more so than literature.

My Love For Lydia Does Not Include All Women

Last week I got a phone call from a friend of mine who has been contemplating the doctrine called Limited Atonement. This doctrine states that even though the punishment that Jesus Christ received on the cross was sufficient to save all men, it is only made efficacious to those who are the elect of God. When non-Reformed people first hear of this doctrine, their "heresy detectors" begin to notify them right away that there is a problem. Little does the human mind perceive correctly without the spectacles of faith.

So the question remains, for whom did Jesus Christ die? Did he die for the church? Did he die for those who will spend eternity in hell? These are great questions that need to be answered from the Word of God. Search and you will find.

Below you will find some verses that discuss the atonement and the application thereof. You will also find an excerpt from a treatise by Loraine Boettner on the atonement. It can be found in fullness in a little book entitled The Reformed Faith.

Matthew 1.21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

John 6.35-40 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 10.11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

Ephesians 5.25-27 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

These are just a few of the many verses in scripture that deal with limited atonement. (I am working on an annotated bibliography that will be posted in the future.) The atonement had a particular purpose in mind. The death of Christ was not so that men could be saved, but so that men would be saved.

One analogy that I like to use (because scripture does) is that of the bridegroom. The husband is called to love his wife and to give his life for her AS CHRIST did for the church. Did Christ give his life for his bride or did he give himself for many brides? Scripture teaches that the bride was purchased by his blood. Christ is a faithful bridegroom and does not chase after other brides...nor give his life for them.

It was not, then, a general and indiscriminate love of which all men were equally the objects, but a peculiar, mysterious, infinite love for His elect, which caused God to send His Son into the world to suffer and die. Any theory which denies this great and precious truth, and which would explain away this love as merely indiscriminate benevolence or philanthropy which had all men for its objects, many of whom are allowed to perish, must be unScriptural. Christ died not for an unorderly mass, but for His people, His bride, His Church.
A farmer prizes his field. But no one supposes that he cares equally for every plant that grows there, for the tares as well as the wheat.God's field is the world, Matt. 13:38, and he loves it with an exclusive eye to its good seed, the children of the kingdom, and not the children of the wicked one. It is not the whole of mankind that is equally loved of God and promiscuously redeemed by Christ. God is not necessarily communicative of His goodness, as the sun of its light, or a tree of its cooling shade, which does not choose its objects, but serves all indifferently without variation or distinction. This would be to make God of no more understanding than the sun, which shines not where it pleases, but where it must. He is an understanding person, and has a sovereign right to choose His own objects.
In Genesis we read that God put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Now who were meant by the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent? On first thought we might suppose that the seed of the woman meant the entire human race descended from Eve. But in Gal. 3:16 Paul uses this term seed, and applies it to Christ as an individual. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. On further investigation we also find that the seed of the serpent means not literal descendants of the Devil, but those non-elect members of the human race, who partake of his sinful nature. Jesus said of His enemies, Ye are of your father, the Devil; and the lusts of your father it is your will to do, John 8:44. Paul denounced Elymas the sorcerer as a son of the Devil and an enemy of all righteousness. Judas is even called a devil, John 6:70. So the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are each a part of the human race. In other parts of the Scriptures we find that Christ and His people are one, that He dwells in them and is united with them as the vine and the branches are united. And since at the very beginning God put enmity between these two groups, it is plain that He never loved all alike, nor intended to redeem all alike. Universal redemption and God's sentence on the serpent can never go together.
There is also a parallel to be noticed between the high priest of ancient Israel and Christ who is our high priest; for the former, we are told, was a type of the latter. On the great day of atonement the high priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the twelve tribes of Israel. He interceded for them and for them only. Likewise, Christ prayed not for the world but for His people. The intercession of the high priest secured for the Israelites blessings from which all other peoples were excluded; and the intercession of Christ, which also is limited but of a much higher order, shall certainly be efficacious in the highest sense, for Him the Father hears always.
Furthermore, it is not necessary that God's mercy shall extend to all men without exception before it can be truly and properly called infinite; for all men taken together would not constitute a multitude strictly and properly infinite. The Scriptures plainly tell us that the Devil and the fallen angels are left outside of His benevolent purposes. But His mercy is infinite in that it rescues the great multitude of His elect from indescribable and eternal sin and misery to indescribable and eternal blessedness.
While the Arminians hold that Christ died equally for all men and that He obtained sufficient grace to enable all men to repent, believe, and persevere, if they will only co-operate with it, they also hold that those who refuse to co-operate shall on that account and through all eternity be punished far more severely than if Christ had never died for them at all. We see that so far in the history of the human race the large proportion of the adult population have failed to co-operate and have thus been allowed to bring upon themselves greater misery than if Christ had never come. Surely a view which permits God's work of redemption to issue in such failure, and which sheds so little glory on the atonement of Christ, cannot be true. Vastly more of God's love and mercy for His people is seen in the Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement than is seen in the Arminian doctrine of conditional election and unlimited atonement.

Discussion Points:

-Christ's love for his people.

-The power of the atonement.

-Our gratitude for salvation.

24 August, 2005

The Full Armour of God

As Christians we must fall in love with the truth. Truth (for the sake of faith and practice) is found in the Scriptures. Jesus says in the high priestly prayer, "Sanctify them through thy truth, for thy Word is truth."

This needs to be our banner as Christians. We need to realize that the method that God has chosen for us to be conformed to his image is by conformity to his Word. This is one of the reasons that Christians need to learn to defend, uphold, cherish, and immerse themselves in the doctrine (teachings) of the Word.

Another reason that we should love the truth is that this is the spoken Word of God. This is the method that God has chosen to speak to humanity. God has given us special revelation in his son Jesus Christ and in the written Word of God in the Bible. There are NO teachers outside of these two that can teach a saving knowledge of God.

William Gurnall,(c.1617-1679) a Puritan minister wrote a massive tome that deals with the
Full Armour of God. This book is extremely practical as well convicting. As Christians we need to ask ourselves how well we are armoured.

Below is a section on love for the Word of Truth:

A true love to God will make the soul inquisitive to find out what is near and dear to God. Now upon a little search we shall find that the great God sets a very high price upon the head of truth (Psa. 138:2). ‘Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’ That is called God’s name by which he is known, every creature hath God’s name upon it; by his created works God is known, even the least pile of grass displays his name. But to his Word God hath given pre-eminence above all other things that bear his name. The Word is the glass in which we see God; it is the ‘word of truth’ because it sets out the God of truth in all his glory. Not only is his Word the extract of his thoughts and counsels which from everlasting he took up, but it is, chiefly, the most full and perfect representation that God himself could give of his own being – that is his name or attributes. Although God’s glorious nature is seen in his other works it is nowhere else seen so fully as in his Word, and therefore he values it more than all his other works; he cares not much what becomes of this world and all in it, so long as he keeps his Word and saves his truth. Ere long we shall see the world in flames: ‘The heavens and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord endures for ever.’ When God will, he can make more such worlds as this; but he cannot make another truth, and therefore he will not lose one jot thereof. Let us mind this, and know that as we deal with ‘the word of truth’, so we deal with God himself; he that despiseth that, despiseth him. He that abandons the truth of God, renounceth the God of truth. Though men cannot come to pull God out of his throne, and deprive him of his Godhead, yet they come as near this as it is possible, when they let out their hatred against the truth; in this they do, as it were, execute God in effigy. But such is God’s care for his own glory that he will preserve that Word of truth which conveys a knowledge of his glory to men. However much Satan works to deface and disfigure the Word by unsound doctrine, God will maintain his especial care of his truth; whatever else is lost, God looks to his truth. In shipwrecks at sea, and fires by land, when men can save but little they use not to choose lumber and things of no value, but what they esteem most precious. Likewise in all the great revolutions, changes, and overturning of kingdoms, and churches also, God hath still preserved his truth. Thousands of saints’ lives have been lost, but that which the Devil hates more than all the saints; yea, which alone he hates them for (that is, the truth) this lives, and shall to triumph over his malice; and sure if truth were not very dear to God, he would not be at this cost to keep it with the blood of his saints; yea, which is more, with the blood of his Son; whose errand into the world was by life and death ‘to bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37). In a word, in that great and dismal conflagration of heaven and earth, when the elements shall melt for heat, and the world shall come to its fatal period, then truth shall not suffer the least loss, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. There is reason we see, why God should so highly prize his truth, and that we that love him should have our minds girt with it.

Discussion points:
-How well is the church armoured for persecution?
-Personal verses Corporal Spiritual Warfare.
-How serious do we take the idea of the Word being our Sanctifier?
-Gurnall's thoughts on the way in which God cares for the earth and the Word.

21 August, 2005

The Healing of the Blind Textual Critics

It always amazes me when I hear of students and scholars in the same field of study as me attempt to explain away hard sayings in the Scriptures. There are many people who study in this field as though it is any other type of discipline within the realm of humanities.

I do not fall in this category of Theologians (or budding Theologians). My presupposition is that the Bible is the Word of God and that the sections with which I have difficulty I must study more thoroughly and attempt to reconcile these with other areas of Scripture. The famous Augustine of Hippo (c.354-430, African Theologian) has a wonderful quote. He says, "I believe that I may understand". This needs to be our attitude toward the Scriptures if we are going to have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must believe as our presupposition and seek out understanding.

My friend Adam Boone emailed me the below article to show, once again, the evidence that "modern scholarship" stumbles upon to bear witness to the Words of Christ and the Scriptures. It reminded me of the mid-20th century "higher critics" that thought that they would disprove portions of the Old Testament with the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940s. What did they find? They found that the Word of God has been well preserved through-out the centuries just as he said that he would. There was little to no difference between these ancient texts and the ones that we have today. The Word has been preserved. We can trust our Bible.

He is a faithful, covenant keeping God.

Below is the article concerning the discovery of a biblical location that has been lost for centuries. Realize that the article is from CNN and not from a "right wing" news source out to prove Christianity. There is not a news source in postmodern America that is more hostile to Christianity than that of CNN. Enjoy.

Pool of Siloam

Discussion Points:
Augustine's quote
The Authority of Scripture
Presuppositional versus Classical Apologetics

17 August, 2005

Improving Upon Your Baptism

The London Tower is a beautiful landmark that has stood in England for many centuries. When a Christian, especailly a Reformed Christian, views the tower it should represent the price that our Puritan forefathers had to pay for thier faith.

Many Puritan ministers and sympathizers spent prison time in these towers for refusing to recant the Reformed religion. This is said to be the location where the first edition of Pilgrim's Progress was penned by John Bunyan while he spent time imprisoned there.

On the brink of two baptisms at the Associate Reformed Church, we, as communicant members, need to reflect on our own baptisms in order to be reminded and encouraged of our own Christian commitment.

The Divines at Westminster knew the importance for the Christian to reflect on his or her own baptism and hid instruction on doing so in the middle of the Larger Catechism. Take a few moments to review this question and answer. Write down the thoughts that most impress your heart and your mind and begin to meditate upon them. We should use the occasion of baptism to reaffirm our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Q167: How is our Baptism to be improved by us?

The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it(baptism) to others;
by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it,
and of the ends for which Christ instituted it,
the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby,
and our solemn vow made therein;
by being humbled for our sinful defilement,
our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism,
and our engagements;
by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin,
and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament;
by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized,
for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace;
and by endeavoring to live by faith,
to have our conversation (lifestlye) in holiness and righteousness,
as those that have therein given up their names to Christ;
and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

Soli Deo Gloria!

15 August, 2005

Christian Friendship Examined

FRIENDSHIPS SERVE MANY purposes in our lives. We have friends that we do different activities with and friends that maintain various levels of our confidence and benevolence. There is nothing in this life, besides the love of Christ and spouse, that is to be more cherished than that of a friend.

Christian friendship is to be more valued and cultivated than those connections that we have with those outside of Christ. The Christian is to have purposes that are pure, holy, and lovely.
Friendship needs to be cultivated in a manner that brings trust, accountability, encouragement in the faith, and at times, even rebuke.

There are various friendships that need to be examined in scriputre so that we can model our friendship after them:

1. David and Johnathan
2. Jesus and John
3. Paul and Timothy

By examining these, as well as others, we can begin to develop friendships that bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ as well as spur each other on towards perfection. I would pray that those friends in your life would hold you accountable to your Christian profession and aid in the glorification and enjoyment of God.

Thomas M'Crie

The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But when he was in Rome he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well. -II Timothy 1.16-18

Of all the circumstances which accompany adversity, none give more acute pain to a person of sensibility and generous mind than the unkindness and desertion of friends. His distress on that account does not arise so much from the loss of the assistance and advice, or even of the society and sympathy of those on whom he had been wont to rely, although he feels this sensibly. But it arises chiefly from those dark and gloomy views of human nature with which the infidelity of friends is apt to fill the soul, inducing the deceived individual to dread the most sincere professions, and sometimes shaking his reliance on Providence itself. Such feelings are peculiarly apt to be excited in his breast by the violation of those friendships which were consecrated by religion, and in which the parties had become bound to one another by pledging their common faith to a Higher Power.

In this case his firmest confidences being uprooted, and his holiest affections cheated, he feels at the same time desolate and oppressed. He feels as if all things were moved from their foundations, and the earth, with all the inhabitants thereof, were dissolving, while he labors to bear up the pillars of it. Such appears to have been the state of the Psalmist's mind, and he mentions it as the acme of his trouble when he describes these words as bursting from him in the haste and agitation of his spirit, All men are liars. It was in a paroxysm produced by this cause that Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth. And hence also another prophet was led to exclaim in strains which partook more of the bitterness of grief than of anger: Wo is me! The good man is perished out of the earth, and there is none upright among men. The best of them is as a brier, the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge. Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide. The minds of the best and most pious of men would be overset by this temptation, if they were left to their own resolution and reflections. But God is faithful, and will not suffer them to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear; he tempers the severity of their trial, and in his wisdom provides such external means as he knows to be best calculated to restore their peace of mind and re-establish their confidence. And who can express the delight which they feel in this deliverance! How joyfully they shake off the damps which oppressed them, while their relieved spirits rise, like a bird which has escaped from the snare, to their native element of unbounded confidence, expressed in gratulations and in prayers poured out for those who have been the honored instruments of effecting their rescue —let the words of the

Apostle which we have read to you declare.

Few minds have been so formed for relishing and imparting the refined and elevated enjoyments of Christian friendship as that of Paul. This is apparent, to mention no other proofs at present, from the tender manner in which he salutes those with whom he had formed a sacred intimacy in the different places which he had visited, and the evident pleasure with which he transmits, in his letters to them, the salutations of those who surrounded him. It is observable that these are most numerous in his earlier epistles, and that they become rare in those which he wrote towards the close of his apostolical career: Not surely that this holy affection burned with abated ardor in his breast, but because the objects of it were diminished. As he approached the termination of his course, and as his sufferings increased and his danger became greater and more imminent, he found the ranks of his friends gradually thinned, until at last he was left to stand and fight the good fight alone. To this he repeatedly alludes with deep feeling, but at the same time with a composure which shows that he had overcome the distress which it once gave him, in this epistle to his beloved son Timothy, written during his second imprisonment at Rome, and only a short time before the martyrdom which he endured there for the name of Christ. All they that are in Asia be turned away from me, says he. Only Luke is with me. At my first answer no man stood by me, but all men forsook me. The selfishness, inconstancy, and cowardice, which were thus brought to light, could not but wound the spirit of Paul; but the wound was healed. Though cast down he was not dispirited. Though deserted by his friends he was not left destitute. He could say with his Divine Master, that, though they left him alone, yet was he not alone, and he felt no lack. All men forsook me —nevertheless the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, and I was delivered from the mouth of the lion. At the bar of the Emperor he was enabled to open his mouth boldly in confessing and pleading the cause of Christ; and when remanded to his prison, and when his timid friends in Rome stood aloof from him, the compassionate Master whom he served brought from a distance a friend whose seasonable and divinely arranged visit banished every remains of gloom from his mind, and inspired him with fresh alacrity for the approaching crisis of the combat. When Paul had landed in Italy, some of his brethren in Rome came out to meet him, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage (Acts 28:15). How ravishing to salute dear friends after escaping from the perils of a storm! And, amidst the wreck of our friendships, when, on first recovering from the shock which it produced, we thought of opening our eyes on blank desolation, how reviving to find standing by our side one friend whom we had not seen for a long period of time, but who had never lost sight of us, and who, heaven-directed, had flown as on angel wings to succor and comfort us! One friend who loveth at all times, and whose visits are paid in the season of adversity, is sufficient to compensate for the loss, if loss it can be called, of ten thousand of those giddy pretenders to friendship who buzzed about our ears in the noon of prosperity, whom the slight shower brushed away, and who, in spite of all our caution, left upon us the spots of their own vain and vitiating flattery. Such a friend Paul found in Onesiphorus. From the manner in which it is here mentioned, we perceive that the kind visit and Christian conversation of this friend had left a fragrance behind him which continued still to refresh the spirits and cheer the solitude of the Apostle. He dismissed the Asiatic deserters with a single sentence: but having mentioned the name of Onesiphorus, he did not know how to break off; so much did his heart overflow with gratitude and affection to his ancient and steady benefactor.

In point of expression and structure this episode possesses great beauty, not that which consists in the choice and arrangement of words, but a beauty which art in its highest finishings cannot reach, the impress of the moral and religious feeling which dictated it. The breaks and the repeated changes in the form of address forcibly depict the feelings of the writer —the eagerness and impatience which he felt to express his gratitude to that good man who had shown that he was not ashamed of the cross of Christ, nor of himself, his prisoner and champion, at a time when so many timid and worldly professors had deserted both. It is a rare example (the only one I know) of prayer and narrative, an address to God and to men intermingled, and in which the familiarity used with the latter does not diminish in the slightest degree the reverence due to the former, who will have mercy and not sacrifice. He begins with an address to Heaven in behalf of his friend's family: The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus. But he interrupts this solemn address to acquaint Timothy with the obligations which he was under to him: For he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. He then resumes his prayer for him in still more solemn and fervent accents: The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord at that day. And he concludes by adverting to his early kindness and benefactions with which Timothy was already well acquainted: And in how many things he ministered to me at Ephesus thou knowest very well. Here, my brethren, you have two portraits drawn with the same pencil and by the same strokes; and it is difficult to say which is most worthy of being admired and imitated —the Christian beneficence and constancy of Onesiphorus, or the Christian gratitude and piety of Paul. Let us contemplate each of them for a little.

I. Of the conduct of Onesiphorus.

This benevolent Christian was an inhabitant of Ephesus, and a member of the church there. Like many of his fellow-citizens, he most probably `owed his own self' to the Apostle; and he testified his love to the gospel, and his gratitude to his spiritual instructor, by ministering to him liberally of his substance during the time that he preached in that city. It appears from Paul's farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, that, with the view of not being burdensome to them, he had labored with his own hands for his support (Acts 20:33-35). But as his labors were interrupted by public teaching, and by persecution, an opportunity was afforded to benevolent individuals to relieve him from straits, which, although his fortitude and self-denial would have enabled him to bear them, could not have failed to distress his mind, and to hinder him in the discharge of his official duty. In imparting this relief, Onesiphorus had distinguished himself, being, as is most likely, a person in good or opulent circumstances. Though the Apostle did not desire a gift, and had learned to suffer need, as well as to abound, yet he desired fruit to abound to the account of those among whom he labored. Hence he rejoiced in the Lord greatly that the care which the Christians at Philippi showed him, at their first acquaintance, had flourished again after a season of suspension; and he calls the things which were sent from them, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well— pleasing to God (Philip. 4:10-18). On this account it refreshed him to recollect the kindness with which Onesiphorus had treated him at Ephesus. He does not tell us in how many things he had ministered to him. This it would not have been easy for him to do, if it had been necessary. In how many ways, my brethren, may we serve others, and contribute to their comfort, even though our means be slender and scanty! Nameless, countless are the kindnesses performed by a zealous and vigilant benevolence, exerting itself in the spirit and after the example of him who presents us with blessings of goodness manifold! It is not the magnitude of costliness of gifts that proves the goodness of the donor, or does most good to the recipient; it is their number, their repetition, their seasonableness, and the considerate and delicate manner in which they are conferred. The goodness of Heaven, in nature and in grace, steals upon us, and its choicest blessings descend in drops so small as not to be perceived, and with such gentleness as scarcely to be felt. Largesses may be bestowed in such a way as to chill the heart and lacerate the feelings, while small and comparatively inconsiderable favors drop like the rain, and distil like the dew, which refresh and saturate the earth.
The early beneficence of Onesiphorus was not forgotten by Paul. But what he was most desirous to record, was the kindness he had lately shown him in Rome. In the many proofs of affection which he had formerly given, he had done virtuously; but this last excelled them all. And wherein did its surpassing excellence lie? It proved him to be a friend indeed; one who sticketh closer than a brother. A person may be capable of deeds both disinterested and generous, romantically generous, and yet he may want that quality without which he is not entitled to the sacred name of friend. Constancy is the cardinal, the crowning property of friendship, the only inimitable and imperishable impress of its genuineness. Though a man should be willing to give all his goods to feed another, yea, and his body to be burned for him, yet if he is liable to be fickle and changeable in his attachments, he is no friend. He cannot be depended on. And here it is, my brethren, that the professions of regard and friendship which abound in the world fail, and are found to be nought. Behold this have I found, counting one by one to find out the account, which yet my soul seeks, but I find not: One man that is generous and disinterested among a thousand have I found; but a man that is constant and unalterable among all those have I not found. True friendship keeps pace with time; changes not with the changes of fortune; sinks not with the opinion of the world; rises superior to offences; views its object with the same unaltered eye through the atmosphere of good report and of bad report, in the light of honor, and under the cloud of disgrace. A man may grow old, and his visage and form be completely altered, he may fall into poverty and under reproach, he may incur the odium of mankind, and see reason to be displeased with his own conduct; but he cannot hate or forget himself; and as he is, so is his friend, who, in this respect, partakes of his personal identity. Paul continued to be the same to Onesiphorus that he had been on the first day of their acquaintance,— the same at Rome as at Ephesus,— the same when deserted as when surrounded by his followers,— the same when a despised prisoner as when an applauded preacher,— the same when chained with criminals as when seated among apostles on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is not said that he came to Rome for the express purpose of visiting the Apostle. Christianity does not require such works of supererogation; nor are such romantic deeds of generosity necessary to the maintenance of Christian friendship. However much Paul was gratified at seeing his old friend, he would have been displeased, we may venture to say, if he had undertaken such a journey merely for his personal gratification. It was enough, that, being in Rome, he did not forget his revered teacher, now the prisoner of the Lord, but sought him out very diligently, and visited him oft.

I was in prison, and ye came unto me, is the top of the climax in that beautiful description which our Saviour gives of those who shall be acknowledged as his friends at the last day, and to which he subjoins this explanation, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. This was a stronger proof of friendship than giving him meat when he was hungry, or drink when he was athirst; and it was the only proof which, in the circumstances stated, could be sustained. If Onesiphorus had made some enquiries after Paul, but on finding it difficult to discover the place of his confinement, had desisted from them, and left with some member of the Roman church his affectionate salutations to the Apostle, together with a sum of money to support him in prison, think you, my brethren, that this would have been accepted as a sufficient token of regard, or that it would have refreshed the soul of the prisoner? Verily no. In that case, Paul would have been disposed to reply to his message in the words which a poet has put into the mouth of a female mentioned in the New Testament, Visit me, and retain thy gifts. The present would have been regarded as an affront, and the salutations as a renunciation of friendship. Nothing, we may be sure, which was needful to relieve the temporal necessities of the Apostle, or which could help to lighten his chain, or alleviate his sufferings, would be withheld by this affectionate and munificent friend. But if any thing of this kind was given, it was not thought worthy of being mentioned at the same time with his personal visit. Upon this Paul set a higher value than upon all the substance of his house. To see the face of his ancient benefactor before he died, to receive his cordial and Christian embrace, to hear again his well-known and never-forgotten accents, to learn from his own lips, what he had heard from the report of others, that he retained all his former love to Christ, to his gospel, to his servant, this— this was the refreshing. This made all the garments of his visitant to smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia; and converted his narrow and gloomy cell into an ivory palace, in which he could entertain and make glad his guest.

Though an Apostle, though endued with such deep insight into the mysteries of the gospel, that the very chiefest of the apostles added nothing to him in conference, and though now grown old in Christian experience, Paul did not think himself above receiving consolation and spiritual benefit from the meanest saint. In giving and receiving this, he was always ready to communicate with his brethren. Hence he assigned this reason for wishing to visit the Christians at Rome,— that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me (Rom. 1:18). We cannot doubt that he was refreshed on the present occasion by the conversation which he held with Onesiphorus. And what might the nature of that conversation be? Not, perhaps, exactly that which we might at first suppose it to have been. When Moses and Elias appeared with our Saviour on the Holy Mount, though he was transfigured before them, they did not entertain him with the glories of the celestial city from which they had just made their descent; but they spake of the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Paul and Onesiphorus would not spend the precious moments in talking of the passing news of the day, nor even in recalling the incidents of their former life when they knew one another in happier external circumstances. Their communings would be on higher themes; nor would their countenances be sad while they discoursed of Him who died for them, and rose again, and was now at the right hand of God,— and of his love, from which no distance of place, or depth of distress, or form of death, could separate them,— and of the triumphs which the cross had gained over the powers of darkness, and the still more signal triumphs which awaited it in its irresistible progress,— and of the death by which Paul was shortly to glorify God, and to seal his preaching, now fully made known to the Gentiles,— and of the comforts which would make him more than a conqueror in the closing conflict,— and of the joy of his Lord, into which he would immediately enter. On these high and heart-ravishing themes would they dilate, while the hours fled unheeded away, until the faint glimmerings of the lamp, reflected from the walls of the cell, discovered to them the haggard faces of its fierce inmates subdued into a temporary tameness, while they listened with fixed attention to the strange things which now for the first time saluted their ears; and while their every feature expressed the surprise and astonishment which they felt at witnessing the joy and transports of a detested criminal, who had the prospect of speedily terminating his life in the midst of the most excruciating torments.

But though the conversation of Onesiphorus must have imparted high pleasure to Paul, it was not the chief source of the gratulation which he expressed at his visit. What conveyed the most lively joy to his heart, was the testimony which his Ephesian friend had given of his love to the gospel, by despising the shame with which its imprisoned Apostle was then loaded. He refreshed me, for he was not ashamed of my chain. You may feel some difficulty in entering fully into the force of this reason. If the Apostle had said, `He was not afraid of incurring my bonds,' you could have understood him more easily. This was included; but there is great propriety in expressing the whole of the sufferings to which Christians were then exposed by this part of them; for in reality shame was the gall of its bitterness. Hence the language in which Paul addresses his exhortation to Timothy in the context: Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel: and hence, too, his declaration concerning himself, I suffer these things, nevertheless I am not ashamed. You will err exceedingly, my brethren, if you suppose there was any resemblance between Onesiphorus's visit to Paul, and those which charitable and pious individuals are now accustomed to pay to prisons, with the laudable view of alleviating the bodily sufferings, or ministering to the spiritual wants of their wretched inhabitants; visits, which, so far from exposing them to disgrace, greatly enhance their reputation. Nor are you to imagine that the shame was incurred by a man of respectable rank visiting and conversing with a prisoner in chains, or that it arose in any degree from the worthless character of the malefactors with whom the Apostle was confined. So far was this from being the case, that it was then much less disgraceful to suffer as a thief or a murderer than as a Christian. It would lead us away from our subject to inquire into the causes which co-operated in producing this feeling. Suffice it at present to say, that it appears from the concurring testimony of civil and ecclesiastical history, that from a variety of causes (not involving the conduct of its professors), Christianity had at this time fallen under extreme odium at Rome, the most diabolical calumnies against its friends were industriously circulated and greedily believed; and they were regarded, by the multitude, magistrates, and philosophers, with a mixture of hatred, horror, and contempt not to be described. During his first imprisonment, Paul was kept under an easy restraint, lived in his own hired house under the guard of a soldier, received his friends, and preached the gospel, without any hindrance. But it was quite otherwise now during his second imprisonment. He was thrown into chains, capitally arraigned, and although he had miraculously escaped at his first appearance before Nero, yet he looked every day for the pronouncing of his doom. Accordingly all his brethren, even those who had hitherto stuck most closely by him, had withdrawn and left him to his fate. No man knew him. It was only after a long search, and many fruitless inquiries, that Onesiphorus could discover the dungeon in which he was confined, and trace him to his cell, where he was shut up with the most depraved of the criminals who swarmed in the metropolis of the world —men-stealers, murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, who yet shunned his society, and looked on themselves as they were looked on by others, as felons less foul than —that Christian.

Come hither, my brethren, draw near, and look on infant Christianity, the mother of us all. Do you recognize her? Her cradle a cell, her clothing rags, her swathing-band an iron chain, her nurse a jailer, her mates and betters the vilest of the malefactors! Here let us humble ourselves, and try whether we be Christians indeed. Ah! how little know we of suffering shame for the name of the Lord Jesus! Which of us would be able to bear the proof, if, to testify our attachment to him, it were necessary for us to submit to be made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions, or to become companions of them that were so used? It was this proof of love to the gospel, and of inextinguishable affection for himself on the part of Onesiphorus, that penetrated the heart of Paul, and filled it with exultation. He was not ashamed of my chain. Ashamed of it? No: he gloried in it, embraced it, called it the chain of his blessed Saviour, and protested that for his sake he would willingly bind it about his neck, and wear it as a badge of distinction more honorable than the diadem of Caesar.

II. Of Paul's return for the kindness of Onesiphorus.

Alas! what return could he make for such rare and disinterested goodness? Although it had been possible to discharge the debt, he was at present utterly destitute of the means. His feet were fast bound in the stocks; and he could not even testify his gratitude in that way in which the meanest pauper feels a pleasure in doing it, while he accompanies his benefactor to the door of the hovel which he had cheered by his presence. All his friends had deserted him; and there was not an individual within the walls of the crowded city to whom he could delegate the performance of the rites of hospitality due to the friendly stranger. Did there then remain to Paul no way of expressing his gratitude? Yes, there was one, and that more excellent and efficient than all those to which we have alluded. He could not follow Onesiphorus to the door of his cell; but he could follow him whither-soever he went with his prayers. He could give him no assistance in the secular business which had brought him to Rome; but he could further his views in the more lucrative traffic which he carried on with heaven. He could not say to him, as the prophet to his Shunammite hostess, Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king or the captain of the host (2 Kings 4:13)? But he had interest at a higher court than that of any king or emperor, and could speak for him to the Captain of Salvation. True he was in bonds; but he was an ambassador in bonds; and those who had dared to throw into prison the ambassador of the King of Kings, and to interrupt him in the discharge of his embassy, could not prevent him from maintaining an intercourse with the court of heaven by prayer, or from recommending to it any individual who, by showing kindness to him, had befriended its interests. Paul had it not in his power to testify his gratitude to Onesiphorus, as David did to Barzillai, by receiving his son into his family (2 Sam. 19:31-38); but he recommended his whole household to the tutelage and mercy of the bountiful Master whom he served.

The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus! It appears from the close of the epistle, in which the Apostle sends his salutations to the household of Onesiphorus, that the head of the family had not yet returned to Ephesus, being most probably still detained in Italy on the business which had brought him from home. Like every good man he would feel anxious about the safety of his family in his absence, and would be much engaged in supplications to God in their behalf. Now what things he sought for them, these Paul also sought for them in this brief but comprehensive petition: The Lord be a father and head to them during the absence of their earthly protector and guide! Because he hath made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, his habitation, let no plague come nigh his dwelling! Shield them from sickness and violence, and every evil! Above all, preserve them in the paths of righteousness, in which they have been trained to walk! My God, supply all their need out of thy riches in glory by Jesus Christ! Wonder not that I consider this as applying to the effects of mercy in time, for in this sense the Apostle uses the expression elsewhere, with reference to an individual to whom he was greatly indebted: Epaphroditus was sick nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him (recovered him); and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow (Philip. 2:27). How much would it have added to the weight of Paul's chain, if any thing distressing had happened to the family of his friend during this journey! Doubtless, however, this petition was not confined to temporal blessings, but included what we find him next supplicating for Onesiphorus himself.

The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day! And what could Paul say more? What could the most liberal soul devise more liberally than this? Enlarged as his desires were, big, swelling, and overflowing with gratitude as his heart at this time was, could he ask any thing greater for his Christian friend and benefactor than that at the great day of accounts, when he should stand before the bar of the universal Judge, and await the sentence fixing his eternal condition, he should find mercy of the Lord, be mercifully acquitted, and accepted, and rewarded? He had shown mercy to the Apostle in the day of his trial, and he prays that mercy may be shown to him in the day of his trial. He had refreshed him oft, and he prays that the great day of decision may be to his benefactor a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The Apostle had just been expressing to Timothy his persuasion that he to whom he had committed his own soul was able to keep it against that day; and what higher testimony of his regard could he give to Onesiphorus than to commit him to the same all-sufficient and faithful Redeemer? He had parted with him expecting to see his face no more until the day that they should appear at the same judgment-seat; and therefore, he commends him, as he had done the elders of the church to which he belonged, to God and to the word of his grace, which was able to build him up, and to give him an inheritance among all them which are sanctified (Acts 20:32). This is Christian gratitude.

The repetition of the name of the person to whom he addresses himself, and from whom he implores mercy to Onesiphorus, is expressive of the fulness of the Apostle's heart, and the ardor of his affection. But my object was not to bring forth all that is implied in the expressions, but to unfold the characters delineated in the passage. Let us now improve the subject.
The improvement is twofold. We have here exemplified the power of Christianity on two individuals placed in very different situations— the one a private member of the church, the other an Apostle; the one in affluent circumstances, the other in the most destitute condition; the one at liberty, the other in chains, and about to be led out to an ignominious death. The grace of God shines in both with a beautiful variety. Their features differ, and yet they are evidently children of the same family. In the charity and constancy of the one, in the piety and gratitude of the other, and in the faith and fortitude of both, you may see what the gospel is capable of effecting, and thus have your confidence in its truth confirmed. But the subject is to be improved also in the way of imitation, by Christians in circumstances differing very widely. I shall point out a few of its lessons.

1. Learn to look more on the bright than on the dark side of the picture of your lot. The mind easily catches the impression of the objects on which it habitually dwells: if they be dark, it will be gloomy; if they be light, it will be cheerful. Who so deeply and so uniformly involved in afflictions as Paul, and yet who so uniformly and so joyfully elevated as he? One secret of this we perceive in the passage before us. He was in bonds; but Onesiphorus was not ashamed of his bonds. He had been deserted by his friends; but there was one who had diligently sought him out and found him. And he dwelt on the last until the remembrance of the first was completely obliterated from his mind. Go thou, Christian; do likewise; and then, though sorrowful, thou wilt be always rejoicing.

2. Learn that Christianity does not extinguish any of the innocent feelings of human nature, and improves those which are amiable. It is natural for us to be dejected when we are forsaken and left alone; and to be cheered and refreshed by the visits, the conversation, and the sympathy of friends. Such is our weakness here— the weakness of the strongest— that we are easily dejected and easily elevated. God can support the heart by his gracious assistance and the consolations of his Spirit; but such is the respect which he has for our frame, that he often condescendingly and seasonably provides for us external cordials. Paul tells us on another occasion that, when he was in great distress, God, who comforteth them that are cast down, comforted him by the coming of Titus. Beware, my brethren, of sullenly rejecting any thing of this kind when it is offered to you, or refusing to rejoice in it because it falls short of the proper consolations of the gospel. It is from God; the refreshing of your animal spirits may be introductory to spiritual joy; and by means of both you may be helped to glorify him. Our blessed Redeemer himself, when he went to the garden of agony, took three of his disciples along with him to watch with him while he prayed; and when they fell asleep, there appeared unto him an angel, strengthening him. And as Christianity does not war with the innocent, so it improves the amiable feelings. Instead of weakening, it strengthens parental affection, excites it when it is dormant, checks its excess, raises it from an instinct or a passion into a virtue, and expands it into a warm and active concern for the spiritual and eternal welfare of its endearing objects. This is true, also, of friendship and of gratitude. They are not swallowed up in a feeling of universal benevolence, but purified and exalted by an infusion of Christian principle. Onesiphorus had doubtless performed acts of beneficence to many other besides Paul. Why are the latter only mentioned? To afford you an example of Christian gratitude.

3. Learn that beneficence is a native fruit of Christianity, and a leading test, especially in the affluent, of Christian character. What is the gospel but the discovery of the love and kindness of God to man Will not then the unfeigned belief of it produce philanthropy, or a disposition, as we have opportunity, to do good to all men, especially the household of faith? Who can resist the force of this divine logic, —If God so loved us, we ought to love one another, and that not in word and in tongue, but in deed, as he loved us, and gave his only begotten Son? Do they know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, or have they tasted that he is gracious, who are not disposed to be gracious and merciful to their brethren? Can they be said to believe that Christ gave himself for them and delivered them from the wrath to come, and that they are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in him. who will give nothing, or what is to them next to nothing, to relieve their fellow-creatures and fellow-christians from temporal distresses and want? Can they believe that the Son of God came from heaven to earth on an errand of mercy, and gave himself a ransom for men of all nations, who cannot extend their regards beyond those who are of their own neighborhood and country? Can they believe that he gave himself for sinners, whose love and its exertions are confined entirely to the righteous and the good? True Christianity supplants an inordinate affection to the things of the world by means of the love of God, banishes that selfishness which disposes persons to retain whatever they possess, and, by enlarging their hearts, makes them to give without grudging, and to feel the words of the Lord Jesus, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Such was the influence of Christianity on the primitive believers, when great grace was upon them all —neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own. Such was its influence on the Macedonians, who contributed for the relief of their brethren in Judea to their power, yea, and beyond their power. Such was its influence on the Hebrews, whose labor of love in ministering to the saints, is commended by the Apostle. And such will be its influence in every age upon all who are savingly acquainted with it. Without this, no attainments in religious knowledge, no orthodoxy in point of sentiment, no zeal of God, no correctness of moral conduct, no warmth of religious affections, no disconformity to the world in its sinful fashions or vain amusements, no mortifications or abstinence from the pleasures of life, will be a sure mark or safe criterion of Christian character.

4. Learn from this subject what is the best expression of gratitude. It is proper to testify our sense of favors received by acknowledgments to our benefactors; but the Apostle, in the passage under consideration, shows us a more excellent way, while he pours out fervent supplications to God in behalf of Onesiphorus and his family. He that does the former does well; he that neglects not the latter does better. There is less danger of its being ceremonious or merely complimentary; and surely it promises to be more effectual and available. Those whom Providence has placed in such circumstances as to require the assistance of others, should beware of failing in this duty, or of performing it in a listless and cold manner. If you are subjected to hardships from which your richer brethren are exempted, they are exposed to temptations from which you are exempted. Pray for them that their table, instead of becoming a snare to them, may be sanctified, and that they may not have all their good things in their life-time. If you are deficient in making a return for gifts which you have received, you have yourselves to blame. A Christian can never be a bankrupt, for he can always draw on heaven. If you cannot pay your debts of gratitude yourselves, you can by means of prayer transfer them to one who is able to discharge them. Access to the throne of grace is a precious privilege to all saints, but it is doubly so to the poor; for it enables them to relieve themselves from a load which cannot fail to be oppressive to every feeling mind.

5. Those who are in ability are encouraged by this subject to be kind and compassionate to necessitous and afflicted Christians. By such conduct you draw out their desires to God in your behalf; and the prayers of the righteous in such cases have the force of promises, as their complaints against the cruel and oppressive have the force of curses. Christians pray for all men, including their enemies; but they do not, and cannot pray for all with the same warmth and confidence. When mentioning his desertion by his brethren at his appearance before Nero, Paul says, I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge! But there is a marked difference between that prayer and this in our text. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much when it is fervent. Your acts of kindness will excite their religious affections, cause them to remember you every time they bow their knees to their heavenly Father, and fill their mouths with new arguments for enforcing their petitions. Falling into their souls, your beneficence will refresh them, open them to the rays of the sun of righteousness, and thus make them send up their fragrance to heaven, like the earth when it has been refreshed by a shower. Their prayers will be to your alms what the oil and frankincense was to the meat-offering under the law; and both will ascend as a sweet savour unto the Lord (Lev. 2; Philip. 4:18).
In fine, you may learn from this subject that deeds of beneficence and charity are not meritorious in the sight of God. Those who teach the merit of good works learned it not assuredly either from the doctrine or the prayers of Paul; for when his heart was penetrated most deeply with a sense of the kindness of Onesiphorus, and when he prayed most fervently that he might be rewarded for it, he employed in each petition the plea of mercy. Your goodness reacheth not unto God but to the saints; and shall a few temporal favors which you have been enabled to do for the excellent of the earth assume that mighty importance in your eyes as to merit the kingdom of heaven? Guard against legalism as well as anti-nomianism; and, O! beware lest your vessel, fully furnished with every good work, strike on that rock which has proved fatal to the hopes of so many. Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, but put on also humbleness of mind. When you have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done no more than we ought to have done. God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love. Verily you shall have a reward; but then it will be a reward of grace and not of debt. Those who deserve best of their fellow-creatures are most deeply impressed with a sense of their ill-desert in respect of God; and those who are the most faithful servants of righteousness, instead of claiming eternal life as wages due to them, will be most disposed to receive it as the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Cherish this disposition, and it will cause you to be not slothful but zealous and diligent followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and thus you shall make your calling and election sure to yourselves. Ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

11 August, 2005

The Emergent Church: Second Part of Three

Studying the "emergent church" has been a great experience for me. I think that we, as Reformed Christians, do need a better understanding of our current cultural context. I also believe that we need to be able continue to reform within our own heritage.

The best model for the latter is that we go back to our confessions as a starting point. (That is, that with the assumption that they are reflections of biblical thought.) We cannot reform until we are able to return to where we once were. As Rev. Lanning once said in a reformation day sermon at a local college, "There is no reformation left, we have abandoned the historical markers."

This may be where the emergent church comes in:
They attempt to be relevant, and they are able to show dissatisfied Generation Xers that they have something to offer, something that is both historic as well as rellevant. (This is postmodernity.)

The Reformed churches have erred in one of two ways:
1. They have maintained the sense of history at the expense of being relevant to our culture. (i.e. they are unable to answer the questions that a generation that questions EVERYTHING poses.)
2. They attempt to be so relevant that they abandon the Reformed Faith (Does anybody remember "Our world belongs to God"?). This is what has happened in most of the Grand Rapids churches. They have abandoned the historic Reformed Faith in pursuit of something "fresh" and "modern." The problem with this is model is that the "fresh" approach is actually cliche and no longer considered to be "in."

With that critique of our own tradition, let me move on to the emergent church:

Below you will find an exerpt from a critique of the emergent conversation by Derek Thomas. I have edited it for the sake of the needs of this discussion. I would like to ask what we, as Reformed Christians, can learn from this movement, as well as ask those readers who are emerging if they find this critique to be fair.

(Derek Thomas is British, so there are many "British-isms.")

We can learn lessons from most things in life. Behind every criticism there is an element of truth. The emerging church is a reaction against people like us.

What lessons?
1. They are people seeking to understand the times.The men of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do. We all have something to bring to the table. We need men who know the times and live in creative accountability to one another. In the ministry of Jesus we overhear one conversation with Nicodemus; he speaks to the woman of Samaria in a different way. He engages with both of them. To the Pharisees and to the tax collectors again he speaks in different ways. Jesus is drawing them out by question and answer, engaging with men and women. We are to seek to understand the times. Provs 18:13 urges us not to answer before we have listened. Why are young people fascinated with the Stereophonics, or Manic Street Preachers? All the effective evangelists connected with their cultures. The more pagan the culture becomes the more beautiful the church seems. Paul at Athens showed he knew the pagan poets. Have you thought of the evangelistic value of Welsh literature? How would you use Dylan Thomas' attitude to death, raging against the dying of the light? Or again R.S. Thomas' verse? You "crammed God into the boards of a black book" he said, rejecting an authoritarian God.
2. They call for reality in the church.Rick Warren and Bill Hybel have their mega-churches but the emerging church criticises them for being driven by consumerism. Their emphasis is on an encounter with the living Christ. They grumble that churches like ours are being turned into lecture-rooms with no sense of the presence of Christ, and no experience of him, and no 'new vision of Jesus.'
There are those who seek to create reverence by a stiff pose while others do so by music and choreography. One is manufactured solemnity and the other is ersatz rejoicing. What we desire today is spiritual liberty and a divine anointing so that there is a palpable presence of God in our worship. That cannot be brought in by mere form.Reality in worship leads to reality in community; bearing with one another and bearing one another's burdens. We are not spending time with one another as we should.
One emerging church is Maybridge Community Church in Worthing and its publicity says, "It has taken the step to ensure that it offers some alternative choice to being Church and therefore operates a multi-congregational approach, holding and valuing three very diverse congregations as expressions of church.
THIRD is the newest of these 'congregations' that has emerged and originally began as a small group of eight people in September 2002 who were released from the traditions and constraints of the current church services and leadership structures to explore a new and vibrant way of being church in a post-Christian, post-modern culture. From its very conception THIRD was formed as an indigenous expression of church and has not been following any road maps or proven formulas. This was, and continues to be a pioneering adventure and journey in the life of our transitioning church.
"Who we are . . . THIRD is based around a fluid network of relationships for all ages that meet every week for gatherings of a different focus, from alt worship to theology and discussion. We are a group of people seeking to find an example of church that is authentic to both our present culture and 2000 years of church history. A group exploring how to live lives of integrity informed by Christian faith. A group journeying together and trying to find meaning in our lives with an openness to dialogue and have conversations about faith and spirituality. A group looking to find new and creative ways to worship God honestly and freely. A group trying to provide a place of sacred space that is an accessible source for all who are searching for the spiritual in their lives. But most importantly a group longing to actively live out a Christ-centered spirituality."
So THIRD is looking for meaningful relationships between people. That longing can be so therapeutic, but we also want fellowship in truth and sincerity. There is a lot of posings in our circles. The call is to be honest with one another. Jesus was authentic when he met the women at the well and what he offered her was reality.
3. They touch lives which we do not see.I Cor. 6:9's list of evil-doers concludes with the famous words, "but such were some of you but you were washed . . ." In our congregations everyone is a sinner, yes, the solicitor and doctor are as depraved as the drunkard, but there are many others around us outside this preponderantly middle-class grouping who are not being reached. How do we bring to them the gospel? The rural cottages of North Wales and the Isle of Skye are being bought by English settlers and so it is 'us' and 'them'. "We are the church of the indigenous people," we feel. No we are not. We are the church of Jesus Christ and all kinds of men and women are welcomed into it.
4. They raise a question of what are the traditions of men.Clerical collars, make-up, drinking wine, smoking cigars - people get in a tizz with saying yes or no. What is biblical and what are the traditions of men? What has God required? How do we interpret the regulative principle? There are many options.

There are three basic weaknesses with the emerging church

1 It connects but does not critique.The Christian view of culture is that there is no wholly sanctified culture and no wholly depraved culture. There are elements of goodness in all, and also elements that are wrong. But the emerging church hardly critiques the culture; it only criticises us! Its atmosphere is overwhelmingly laid back and acceptant. You can sit in the corner of the pub-cum-church and have a wee conversation during the time while the man at the front is speaking - and that is considered 'cool!' They criticise the 'formal' and 'authoritarian' nature of 'traditional churches' but they rarely lock horns with our culture. How different were the prophets of God like Amos, and Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus himself who all urged people to turn from their sins.
2. It does not face the concept of sin.One rarely comes across personal sin in emerging church. Steve Chalke is interviewed by Mclaren and they both agree that Jesus' message is the Kingdom of God and not trusting in Christ's death for salvation. 'Original goodness as well as original sin need to be emphasised,' they say. The mood of the church is not the courtroom needing a verdict but the pub having a chat. No it is not. Nail the sinner to the wall. "Are you going to leave this place tonight with or without Christ?" This 'Christianity' is not even liberalism. The plot line of the Bible is redemption accomplished and applied. That ought to produce electricity and radicalism.
3. It denies the glory of the church.But Christ loves his church; the groom adores her, and she is presented as a beautiful bride to her husband, and in the end the Saviour says Wow! What a beautiful church! He loves his people and we love them and him.
4 The Lamb is rarely seen there in the emerging church.There is no sense of gospel wonder.

The conversation continues to the glory of Christ and for the sake of His bride.

Soli Deo Gloria!

06 August, 2005

Historical Thoughts on Baptism

Baptism is a time when a child of believing parents(or new adult convert who has not been previously baptised) is brought into the covenant of grace and is made a member of the body of Christ.

This rite has become superstitious in a lot of the mainline denominations that baptize their children. This is a very sad and even Satanic attack on the sacrament that the Lord Jesus Christ has instituted to be the visual image of the bond between Him and his Bride.

This should cause us who hold to the old paths to know the doctrine, defend the doctrine, and above all to love the doctrine as the mark that separates the believer from the world.

This next Lord's Day, Owen Justice will be baptized at the Associate Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. I would like to include some documents that discuss baptism for your edification:

Westminster Confession of Faith

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.
II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.
III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.
IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.
VII. The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.

Belgic Confession of Faith

We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law, has made an end, by the shedding of His blood, of all other sheddings of blood which men could or would make as a propitiation or satisfaction for sin; and that He, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, has instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to Him whose mark and ensign we bear; and which serves as a testimony to us that He will forever be our gracious God and Father.

Therefore He has commanded all those who are His to be baptized with pure water, into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, thereby signifying to us, that as water washes away the filth of the body when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled upon him, so does the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God; who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.

The ministers, therefore, on their part administer the sacrament and that which is visible, but our Lord gives that which is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of His fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds.

We believe, therefore, that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be baptized but once with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same, since we cannot be born twice. Neither does this baptism avail us only at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.

Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of believers than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ has done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ's suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to our children. And for this reason St. Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ.

The Second Helvetic Confession of Faith

The Institution of Baptism.

Baptism was instituted and consecrated by God. First John baptized, who dipped Christ in the water in Jordan. From him it came to the apostles, who also baptized with water. The Lord expressly commanded them to preach the Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). And in The Acts, Peter said to the Jews who inquired what they ought to do: Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37 f.). Hence by some baptism is called a sign of initiation for God's people, since by it the elect of God are consecrated to God.

One Baptism.

There is but one baptism in the Church of God; and it is sufficient to be once baptized or consecrated unto God. For baptism once received continues for all of life, and is a perpetual sealing of our adoption.

What it Means To Be Baptized.

Now to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spirit; and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.

We Are Baptized with Water.

And therefore we are baptized, that is, washed or sprinkled with visible water. For the water washes dirt away, and cools and refreshes hot and tired bodies. And the grace of God performs these things for souls, and does so invisibly or spiritually.

The Obligation of Baptism.

Moreover, God also separates us from all strange religions and peoples by the symbol of baptism, and consecrates us to himself as his property. We, therefore, confess our faith when we are baptized, and obligate ourselves to God for obedience, mortification of the flesh, and newness of life. Hence, we are enlisted in the holy military service of Christ that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Moreover, we are baptized into one body of the Church, that with all members of the Church we might beautifully concur in the one religion and in mutual services.

The Form of Baptism.

We believe that the most perfect form of baptism is that by which Christ was baptized, and by which the apostles baptized. Those things, therefore, which by man's device were added afterwards and used in the Church we do not consider necessary to the perfection of baptism. Of this kind is exorcism, the use of burning lights, oil, salt, spittle, and such other things as that baptism is to be celebrated twice every year with a multitude of ceremonies. For we believe that one baptism of the Church has been sanctified in God's first institution, and that it is consecrated by the Word and is also effectual today in virtue of God's first blessing.
The Minister of Baptism. We teach that baptism should not be administered in the Church by women or midwives. For Paul deprived women of ecclesiastical duties, and baptism has to do with these.


We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized. For according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God. Why, then, should the sign of God's covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in his Church not be initiated by holy baptism? We condemn also the Anabaptists in the rest of their peculiar doctrines which they hold contrary to the Word of God. We therefore are not Anabaptists and have nothing in common with them.

Soli Deo Gloria!

05 August, 2005

The Emergent Church: First Part of Three

We cannot define our purpose by who we are not, but who we are. The purpose here is not to be a constant critic, but to bring to light current (and historic) issues facing the Christian church.

In Thy light shall we see light. Psalm 139

Below you will find a link to an article that was in Christianity Today in November of last year.

The article is an interview with Rob Bell and seeks to bring definition to the "conversation" (The word of choice amongst those who are "emerging"... it means movement basically.) The purpose of posting it is as follows:
It was brought to my attention that the Grand Rapids Press article was written by Mr. Charles Honey, who is a member of Fountain Street Church (the local Unitarian/Universalist church). In the event that the article was biased based on Honey's principles here is another article to give another perspective. (Remember: this is Christianity Today, not Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth!)

What I look for when reading articles such as this, first and foremost, is the person's view on the Word of God.

Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 155-157:

Q155: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

Q156: Is the word of God to be read by all?
Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages.

Q157: How is the word of God to be read?
The holy scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

The Emergent Mystique link:


Soon I will be including a critique of the emergent church movement as well as one concerning Velvet Elvis. These critiques will be for the sake of iron sharpening iron. We need to encourage, rebuke, admonish, and build-up one another in the faith. It is necessary for us to know what this movement teaches for a couple of reasons:

1. To learn to break away unbiblical biases that WE hold dear.
2. To discover their view of scripture; know their theology.
3. To be able to defend that which is orthodox. (in the event that they are not).

Soli Deo Gloria!

03 August, 2005

Mar's Hill Pastor, Rob Bell, On Christ and Christianity

Pastor Rob Bell of Mar's Hill Bible Church in Grandville MI has a new book coming out. This is one that those of us in the Reformed Community need to read. (DO NOT purchase it though, check it out of the library!) This book gives insight on what makes a church of 10,000 members in less than a few years become just that.

The answer: Affirm your "faith" in Christ while at the same time affirming truth in other religions of the world. In a recent Grand Rapids Press article Bell states some things that Christ would take issue with:

1. Christianity is to change from generation to generation.
2. The Bible is always to reinterpreted based on your cultural context.
3. The denial of sola scriptura. (The doctrine that says that all things pertaining to life and faith are to be found within the pages of scripture.)
4. Jesus is to be freed from the religion that He founded.
5. The Christian worldview is NOT complete.
6. Jesus is not the only way to find truth about God. (And he does NOT mean natural revelation!)
7. Truth in all religion is to be affirmed.

These ideas, and others, are found below in the article. It is no wonder that in a postmodern world the churches that flourish are the ones that allow for more than what scripture recognizes as truth. The narrow way seems to have been broadened.

As Christians, we need to be prepared to answer the questions that people have concerning Jesus Christ and His Church. We need to love the truth and to be bold enough to proclaim, with Jesus Christ, that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no man comes to the Father except by Him. This is the Gospel.

Repainting Faith: Dynamic pastor publishes book
Grand Rapids Press
Saturday, July 30, 2005

Yes, the Rev. Rob Bell says with a twinkle in his eye. He really does own a velvet Elvis painting.
It gathers dust in his basement, a kitschy relic of Bell's days as a guitarist in a college punk-rock band. It's not just kind of tacky," cracked the young pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. "It's a whole new dimension of tacky." It's also the title of Bell's first book, to be released Monday.

In "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith," published by Zondervan, Bell presents a fresh picture of Jesus for those who have trouble with the traditional portrait. Faith in Jesus, Bell argues, must be repainted for each generation if it is to avoid the fate of his velvet Elvis.
"What often happens in religion is people freeze the faith at a certain point," Bell explained. "There's no more need to paint. We've got the ultimate painting." On the contrary, he asserts -- religion, like art, must keep exploring and reforming, or "you end up with a velvet Elvis on your hands."

"Every generation has to ask difficult questions about what does it mean to follow Jesus. What does the kingdom of God look like as it explodes at this time, in this place?" While tackling big questions of faith, God and the church, Bell's book candidly unpacks his own inner journey and the challenges of leading West Michigan's largest congregation.

Since its founding under Bell in 1999, Mars Hill has exploded to about 10,000 people worshipping in a former Grandville shopping mall. At one point, Bell writes about a personal crisis three or four years ago when he felt burned out. He describes sitting in a storage closet while thousands gathered for the next worship service, wanting to get in his car and drive away.
"I was moments away from leaving the whole thing," Bell writes. "I wasn't even sure I was a Christian anymore."

That kind of honesty is part of the reason Bell has been such a popular pastor, says Dan Van De Steeg, a Mars Hill member who read the book. "I'm proud of him for admitting that," said Van De Steeg, 31, an exhibit installer at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. "It just reaffirms everything I've ever learned about him, and encourages me that he's not backing down." He says he would recommend the book to spiritual searchers of any stripe. "It doesn't matter where you are in your faith, whether you have faith in God or not," Van De Steeg said. "It causes you to think and activate yourself a bit."

Book encourages questions

The Cascade Township-based Zondervan is counting on "Velvet Elvis" to resonate with plenty of young adults like Van De Steeg, as well as older age groups. "Anybody who's ever found a disconnect between church and real life will find this book difficult to put down," said Lyn Cryderman, vice president and publisher of books. Cryderman says he has "high expectations" for the book because, unlike most books about Christianity, it encourages readers to question their beliefs and church teachings. "It's refreshing to have somebody say, 'Go ahead, test it all you want,' instead of, 'There must be something wrong with you because you've got some doubts.' "

Indeed, Bell urges readers to test his own text. The Bible itself, he writes, is a book that constantly must be wrestled with and re-interpreted. He dismisses claims that "Scripture alone" will answer all questions. Bible interpretation is colored by historical context, the reader's bias and current realities, he argues. The more you study the Bible, the more questions it raises.
"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says," Bell writes. "We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people."

Noting the Bible has been used to defend slavery and mistreat women, he writes, "sometimes when I hear people quote the Bible, I just want to throw up." In similarly bold language, Bell tackles questions about Jesus, salvation, the institutional church and religious prejudice. Sprinkled throughout are his own spiritual awakenings and struggles, from first feeling in awe of God at a U2 concert to freaking out over the demands of Mars Hill.

Freeing Jesus

The book, one of two Zondervan has contracted him to write, is "just a reflection of my own journey," Bell said. "My intent has always been to discover the real Christ and the resurrected Christ, and what (he) is saying to me and to us," said Bell, 34, with the excited intensity of someone equally at home with a Bible or a skateboard. He is sitting in the warehouse offices of Flannel, a nonprofit film company that has produced a series of short videos featuring Bell. In each, he delivers a faith-based message in the hip, witty style that has packed worshippers into Mars Hill. Many of them are looking for what Bell says his book offers -- "a fresh take on Jesus."

"I think a lot of people are deeply fascinated with Jesus and just can't do the Christian packages they've seen. Christianity is a little suspect, but Jesus, right on. So I'm trying to free Jesus from the religion that's built up around him." Too many churches put Jesus and the Bible into a walled-in worldview where no questions are allowed, Bell contends. In this "brickianity," as he calls it, church doctrines are like bricks. Removing one can bring the whole wall tumbling down. "What terrifies me are communities that don't have questions," Bell said. "If there's any place where you would express your deepest doubts, it would be church."

Doctrines should be more like springs, helping people jump joyfully toward God, he writes.
He compares it to jumping on a trampoline with his sons, Trace and Preston. "I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better," he writes.
At Mars Hill and elsewhere, he sees thousands who want to jump on. They're hungry for the infinite mystery of God and the "revolution" Jesus could make in their lives and the world. He calls for a faith that fights poverty, injustice and suffering -- to make "this world the kind of place God can come to."

"We want a faith that demands everything of us," he said. "We want it to shake us up and turn us upside down." Bell also shakes up traditional evangelical beliefs.
While calling Christ's way "the best possible way to live," Bell writes Jesus did not claim one religion is better than another when he said he was "the way, the truth and the life." Rather, he writes, "his way is the way to the depth of reality." As a follower of Jesus, Bell argues, he is free to claim the truth wherever he finds it.

"One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system," Bell said. "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." What does that mean for salvation? Bell says it's a question he's wrestling with.

"I think you have to begin to ask questions about whether Jesus died for everybody or just a few," he said. "I challenge the notion that the cross is just for a couple people who happen to say some particular prayer or happen to be in some sort of inside club. I think it goes way bigger."
Bell also has wrestled with his role as teaching pastor of West Michigan's fastest-growing church.

His crisis of confidence in the storage closet led to a period of soul-searching and counseling that he writes about frankly. Many pastors are driven by unresolved personal issues to grow churches and please people, Bell writes. His own nonstop work schedule forced him to confront past problems and work with church leaders to set boundaries on his role.

"I had to kill superpastor," he writes. At Mars Hill, he adds, "Our church is structured much more around the team of leaders than any one person." That may be, but there is no doubt Bell's persuasive preaching has been a huge draw. Does he worry that worshippers believe he has painted the ultimate velvet Elvis of Christianity? "Anybody who says that needs some serious counseling," he said with a laugh, then grew thoughtful.

"I hope that central to the painting I'm painting is the understanding it's the process of painting, not a particular painting, that's the point. Please don't just make endless copies of mine."
As to what would happen to Mars Hill if he stopped painting and moved on, Bell claims not to worry. He calls the church "a holy, sacred thing -- a group of people who are learning to love God and each other and the world around them." "I had to entrust Mars Hill to God a long time ago," he said. "It was never my church in the first place. It's God's, and God has cared for that church well. "I don't have any plans of leaving," he added. "I can't wait to see what happens next."