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Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’


I’ve been talking with my close friends about the difficulty ‘gospel men’ have determining when to fight a theological battle or just avoid offense. As we mature, I doubt this difficulty will go away. Rather, we will likely be tempted to fall into two extremes: 1) offending everybody whenever we disagree with them, or 2) Offending nobody even though we strongly disagree with them.  Both, I believe, are wrong.

As for me, I hope to follow my Lord’s example and that of the apostle Paul.  Although they were gentle as doves with those who needed protection, they surely didn’t avoid conflict with those who needed opposition (“I opposed him to his face,” Gal 2:11), and on occasions seemed to seek it out. And even though they must have known it would arouse the vitriol of their opponents, they didn’t stop short of employing singularly inflammatory statements.

I wonder if Christ or Paul would fair too well in our day… Should we fight? Or should we not? Is there a time to fight? (I think a wise man once said there was a time for everything.)

With that in mind, I ran across this address by J. Gresham Machan entitled ‘The Scientific Preparation of the Minister‘ which was delivered September 20, 1912 at the opening of the 101st session of Princeton Theological Seminary.  As some of us gear up for the ‘Christianity and Liberalism Revisited‘ conference this weekend at WSC, I thought the following paragraph may be particularly appropriate:

Beneath the surface of life lies a world of spirit. Philosophers have attempted to explore it. Christianity has revealed its wonders to the simple soul. There lie the springs of the Church’s power. But that spiritual realm cannot be entered without controversy. And now the Church is shrinking from the conflict. Driven from the spiritual realm by the current of modern thought, she is consoling herself with things about which there is no dispute. If she favours better housing for the poor, she need fear no contradiction… The twentieth century, in theory, is agreed on social betterment. But sin, and death, and salvation, and life, and God – about these things there is debate.

You can avoid the debate if you choose. You need only drift with the current… The great questions may easily be avoided. Many preachers are avoiding them. And many preachers are preaching to the air. The Church is waiting for men of another type. Men to fight her battles and solve her problems. The hope of finding them is the one great inspiration of a Seminary’s life. They need not all be men of conspicuous attainments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against spiritual and intellectual indolence. Their thinking may be confined to narrow limits. But it must be their own. To them theology must be something more than a task. It must be a matter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful memorizing, but to genuine convictions. – J. Gresham Machen

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In Second Corinthians, Paul writes: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (5:18)

What is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’? Here Calvin comments on this very thought:

Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers — that they are sent to us by God with this commission, so as to be messengers, and in a manner sureties.  “And as it were pledges of his good will toward us.” This, however, is not said so much for the purpose of commending ministers, as with a view to the consolation of the pious, that as often as they hear the gospel, they may know that God treats with them, and, as it were, stipulates with them as to a return to his grace. Than this blessing what could be more desirable? Let us therefore bear in mind, that this is the main design of the gospel — that whereas we are by nature children of wrath,(,) we may, by the breaking up of the quarrel between God and us, be received by him into favor. Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.

Paul continues (v.19-20): “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Calvin sees here a ministry of word (and sacrament, secondarily). But both word and sacrament are intrinsically tied to the gospel. It’s beautiful.

Calvin writes:

Hence the ministers of the Gospel restore us to the favor of God in a right and orderly manner, when they bear testimony to us by means of the Gospel as to the favor of God having been procured for us. Let this testimony be removed, and nothing remains but mere imposture. Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the Gospel.

I do not, indeed, deny, that the grace of Christ is applied to us in the sacraments, and that our reconciliation with God is then confirmed in our consciences; but, as the testimony of the Gospel is engraven upon the sacraments, they are not to be judged of separately by themselves, but must be taken in connection with the Gospel, of which they are appendages. In fine, the ministers of the Church are ambassadors, for testifying and proclaiming the benefit ofreconciliation, only on this condition — that they speak from the Gospel, as from an authentic register.

Be reconciled. It is to be observed, that Paul is here addressing himself to believers. He declares, that he brings to them every day this embassy. Christ therefore, did not suffer, merely that he might once expiate our sins, nor was the gospel appointed merely with a view to the pardon of those sins which we committed previously to baptism, but that, as we daily sin, so we might, also, by a daily remission, be received by God into his favor. For this is a continued embassy (“a perpetual embassy and commission”), which must be assiduously sounded forth in the Church, till the end of the world; and the gospel cannot be preached, unless remission of sins is promised.
– Commentaries on 1 & 2 Corinthians

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