Posts Tagged ‘Accountability’

I had the pleasure of getting to visit Westminster Seminary for the first time yesterday.  And it was a pleasant experience.   I got to check out the library and the bookstore and met several very friendly students as well as some staff.  Among all the thoughts (lofty expectations, souring hopes) that one might anticipate, what has arisen to my mind has been of a more cautionary nature. (And this I hope will be for my own good.) What has been pressed upon my heart and mind is a dark and foreboding sense of the reality of apostasy in the church — even in our best Seminaries.  And I say this in no way referring to anything specific to Westminster… I mean I just arrived here!  I have nothing with which to judge.

While perusing the periodicals in the Library I happened across the ‘Master’s Trumpet’ and a sermon delivered to the Synod of New Jersey in 1858s by a man named John Hall.  It was titled ‘The Castaway Preacher.’  The subject struck my attention since it is something that has been on my mind for the last week or so.  In this piece the preacher exhorts on 1 Corinthians 9:27:

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (ESV)

Recently I’ve been reading through 1 Timothy and thinking about the warnings Paul gives his young apprentice.  The apostle talks about having a “pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He points out that “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” Furthermore he exhorts Timothy to: “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” And he tells him that “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Whatever our initial thoughts are on these verses, we must agree these are strong words.  What is Paul getting at? Who is he talking about?  Who would fit this profile today?  Could it be me?  Could it apply to anybody around me? Are we just to be in fear? Fear of failing? Fear of sin?  God forbid, for that would be sin of itself.  So then how do we deal with an issue as tough as this one? Furthermore, I think about the stories of those who have been in the ministry and have fallen either into gross sin or even apostasy.  And one wonders how this happens.

Here are some quotes of John Hall I found particularly interesting:

“A hypocrite may deceive the holiest session, and die in the confidence of the purest church…” (12)

And regarding even the reasonableness that this question be on the minds of ministers – that they practice what they preach:

“The presumptuous sins of a preacher must be the most aggravated of all that come under that inspired designation; and it must be the highest grade of presumption for an expounder and teacher of religion to trust either in his office or his theology, to shield him from the application of such a test as this.” (13)

And then what do we look to as the answer to this problem?

“There is, then, no preventive, no remedy, but the spiritual mind. The revival we need is the revival of the piety of ministers.” (p14)

I admit, that last line is not won I’ve heard too many times before – if at all.  Usually we think of revival in terms of lay people better hearing and better obeying the message.  But here the stress is laid on the ministers own character and faith; are they watching ‘both’ their lives and their doctrine? or just one and not the other?

I will follow up with some of my own observations upto this point in my next post.  But let me leave you with an extended excerpt from Hall’s sermon.  Here we see a glimpse into the spiritual deadness which will follow many a so called minister and will inevitablly destress the church.  May God grant her mercy and grace to appoint those who are duely called.

“The signs of a castaway preacher, so far as they are distinct from those of the trials of other Christians, will appear to be such as these: he has no cordial or practical belief in what his function compels him to preach; he feels an intellectual pride, and enjoys an ambitious gratification in preaching, but has no heart in it as the means of glorifying God and restoring man; with him the ministry is no more than a profession; preaching is his livelihood. If he labour for success, it is for the sake of maintaining his professional position; he is actuated, as men are in their secular vocations; he seeks for promotion; his choice of place and occupation, and his charges, are determined by the preponderance of personal advantages; he will not forego domestic comfort for the sake of ministering in obscurity to the least provided; he finds ready excuses for retiring from labour, or for indulging indolence; he counts his life too dear to run risks; he is always looking for material reward, even for his prayers and consolations; he resorts to tempting adventures, not merely from necessity, or while the necessity continues, but from the love of gain and the pleasure of accumulation; he hoards penuriously while he preaches liberality; he loves general literature more than theology, the society of the world more than the society of the Church; he preaches and prays, visits and writes for fame and notoriety; the pleasure and excitement of the act of preaching are the effect, not of zeal, but of self-complacency; and the bible in hand.gratification or disappointment which he experiences, does not relate to the souls of the people, but to his own vanity; he looks on his fellow-ministers as competitors and rivals; he is envious and jealous; mortified at being overlooked, and ever suspicious of slights. But this is only a random sketch of particulars. Perhaps all may be comprehended in the phrase of the text by saying, that the character described is only a preacher to others . He may have the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, may speak in the tongue of angels, but he is not in himself such a preacher as Christ requires; his unction is not from the Holy One, and so he is disowned, rejected, castaway.” (p9)

All excerpts taken from the ‘Master’s Trumpet’, Issue 5, March 2009.

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An interesting take on ‘accountability groups’ (AGs) by Eric Costa (a PCA pastor).

“When we participate in AGs driven by the Fear of Man or Pride, we testify that we believe that Christianity is simply about getting better. The most important thing becomes stopping sin and getting better. There’s a feeling there, that someday I’ll conquer this whole sin thing, and be good enough. If only I could get to a place where I could stand on my own two feet, not stumbling around all the time in sin! If only I could clean myself up just a little more, then I know I’d be all right with God and his people.


It’s actually pretty enlightening.  What do you guys think? Read the rest here.

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