Author: Andy Schreiber

Ephesians 6:1 on Children and Public Worship

In many evangelical churches it has become increasingly common for the little ones to be excluded in one way or another from attending public worship with their families.

We have the nursery for infants, separate programs of various kinds for the younger children, and some churches even go so far as to have a separate meeting(s) for the youth (i.e. junior and senior high school students) during the worship service.  It would almost seem that in some churches a child could practically go from infancy all the way through graduation from high school without ever actually attending the public worship of their church! (And we wonder why so many children leave the church when they move away to college – they were never really in the church in the first place!)

Now this post is not intended to be an argument against churches having nurseries or cry rooms available to their members who have little ones. (Nor is it an argument against youth ministry in general.) Parents sometimes worry that their noisy infant or toddler might disrupt things or distract others from worship. Such concerns are understandable. (As a father of three younger children myself, I know what it is like to have one of our children crying, wiggling around in their seats, or generally making noise of some kind.) But some churches actually go so far as to openly discourage parents from keeping their little ones with them during the service.

That should not be the case. Parents in our churches should not be discouraged from having their little ones sit with them during the worship service. More than that, I believe that we should do what we can to make children (and their parents!) actually feel welcome in the worship services of our churches. Might that lead to more noise and distraction? Sure. But I think the benefits (especially to the children) over the long haul far outweigh any apparent short-lived negatives that might be involved in having them sit in with the rest of the church during worship.

Not only that, but I believe that we actually have scriptural warrant for such a practice. In Ephesians 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul quotes and applies the 5th commandment, saying,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV)

Notice that in his epistle to the church he gives an imperative or command to children. And he does not just give this command to them through their parents, but rather addresses it to the children themselves – directly. In other words, he doesn’t say, “Parents, make sure that your children know that they should obey you in the Lord, for this is right,” but rather “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (v.1, italics mine)

That should get our attention. Paul, the great apostle and evangelist to the Gentiles, did not see himself as above teaching children; he did not view them as unworthy of instruction along with the rest of the church. Even more importantly for our purposes here, we should take note that he clearly presupposes the presence of children in the public worship services of the church, where his epistles would no doubt have been read and taught to the church.

This also implies that in our preaching we ought to bear in mind the presence of children, and even address them directly at times, when applicable. This also means that our preaching should not be aimed so far over their heads that they cannot even begin to understand anything that is being said.

And let us never forget the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who said,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14, ESV)

Book Review: Devoted to God, by Sinclair Ferguson

devoted7a-810x1280__82818.1478970628.315.315There is a great deal of ignorance and confusion regarding the subject of sanctification in our day. Perhaps that has always been the case. There are, however, some very helpful books on the subject that are available to the modern reader. (See here.) Thankfully, you can add this recent book by Sinclair Ferguson to that list as well.

The title of the book points the reader to Ferguson’s working definition of holiness or sanctification as primarily involving devotion. He writes:

“To be holy, to be sanctified, therefore, to be a ‘saint’, is in simple terms to be devoted to God.” (p.4)

This is not exactly your typical book on sanctification (not that books on that particular subject are by any means common to begin with). As Ferguson himself puts it in his Introduction:

“This is not so much a ‘how to’ book as it is a ‘how God does it’ one. It is not one dominated by techniques for growing in holiness.”

What sets this book on holiness apart (Yes, that was a pun!) is that Ferguson provides us with what he calls a “manual of biblical teaching on holiness” (xi) that is almost entirely passagetical and exegetical. In other words, each chapter deals with a particular passage of Scripture on the subject of sanctification, and largely consists of an exegesis or interpretation of that passage.

That is not to say that there is not a systematic bent or logical progression of topics from one chapter to the next, merely that the overall thrust of the book is exegetical rather than strictly systematic. This, I think, is one of the real strengths of the book.

The passages that he deals with are as follows:

  • 1 Peter 1:1-25
  • Romans 12:1-2
  • Galatians 2:20
  • Romans 6:1-14
  • Galatians 5:16-17
  • Colossians 3:1-17
  • Romans 8:13
  • Matthew 5:17-20
  • Hebrews 12:1-14
  • Romans 8:29

You may notice that the above list consists exclusively of passages from the New Testament. While that is the case, Ferguson does refer to the Old Testament quite a bit throughout the book. If I were to nitpick, the only (admittedly small) thing that I would question would be the absence of a text from the epistles of the Apostle John.

Exegetical books can at times be a bit tedious to read, especially for the lay person, but this volume is not written like an exegetical commentary. Instead, it is both scholarly and accessible, which is one of the many strengths of this book. It serves as a basic introduction to the subject of sanctification, all the while teaching or modeling for the reader the ‘how to’ of exegesis or interpretation as a bonus of sorts.

So if you are looking for a helpful book on the subject of holiness or sanctification, and one that drives you more directly into a study of the Scriptures themselves, this is just the book for you! Read it devotionally, one chapter at a time. Read it with your Bible open in front of you as well. Either way just read it – you will be glad that you did!

You can order a copy for yourself here: Devoted to God

Book Review: The Elder and His Work

Elder DicksonDavid Dickson (1821-1885) served as an elder in his church in Edinburgh, Scotland for over 30 years. That being the case, it gives his book on the office of elder much more weight than its relative brevity (under 100 pages, not counting the Introduction and study questions added by the editors of this edition) might suggest.

The individual chapters are surprisingly short, which makes the book very readable. It is not written in an overly academic fashion and is easily accessible for anyone who might be looking for a basic introduction to this important subject.

Dickson includes chapters on the importance of the office of elder, which is sometimes overlooked in our day.  This is followed by a chapter dealing with the biblical qualifications for the office of elder. There he does not simply go through the lists of qualifications found in 1 Timothy and Titus, but also refers the reader to many of the other New Testament passages that speak of the qualities and qualifications of a good elder. If anything, he boils all of these things down and summarizes them for the reader.

Most of the remaining chapters of the book are devoted to the duties and work of the elder, including such things as visitation (to which he devotes at least two chapters), encouraging family worship among the church’s membership, prayer meetings,  and dealing with cases of church discipline. Considering the relative absence of many of these very things in our churches today, surely we need to recover the biblical picture of the importance of the office of elder, as well as the duties involved.

He finishes the book with very helpful chapters on the elder’s relationship with his minister and session (i.e. fellow elders), and on various “incidents” that the faithful elder may encounter in his ministry, some encouraging, and others quite the contrary. These (like most of the book) are based on his considerable firsthand experience in the field of labor as an elder himself.

The editors of this volume (George Kennedy McFarland & Philip Graham Ryken) served together at 10th Presbyyerian Church, in Philadelphia, PA. The former is a ruling elder and the latter is a teaching elder (i.e. pastor). They added a great deal to this edition by means of the Introduction, the study questions at the end of each chapter (which makes it useful for study in groups, such as elder training), and a good number of footnotes, which serve to explain certain terms, highlight some of the more notable names that Dickson mentions in his quotes or illustrations, etc.

If you are looking for a resource on the subject of elders in the church, this is a very good place to start. It is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but Dickson packs quite a bit of information and insight into this brief primer. If you yourself are currently serving as a ruling elder (or are considering doing so), you may find this to be a very helpful and encouraging book!

You can order a copy of the book for yourself here: The Elder and His Work

The Prayer Meeting as a Gauge of the Spiritual Life of the Church

Elder DicksonPerhaps the only thing rarer in the church these days than the Sunday evening worship service is the prayer meeting. And even when there is a regular prayer meeting, it is surely often one of the most sparsely-attended gatherings of the church.

Why is this the case? Did our Lord Jesus not say (quoting Isaiah 56:7) that “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46)? The church, then, should be characterized by (among other things) prayer.

Now, it is certainly possible that a church can be a praying church without necessarily having a weekly prayer meeting. But it sure helps, doesn’t it? If your church has a regular prayer meeting, even if  it is not well-attended, take heart. Don’t give up on it. Great things often come from small beginnings.

In his book, The Elder and His Work, David Dickson (1821-1885) makes the following observation:

“In a country village of which we know, there has been a prayer meeting conducted now for more than a hundred years. That place has been blessed three or four times with a revival of religion – shall we not say in answer to these prayers? This interesting fact was also told us: that when the tide of blessing was about to come in, the numbers began unaccountably to increase till the place was too strait for them; even outside the door there were many earnest attenders. The people knew that the tide was far out when the number fell to five or six. Then they began to pray again for a turning of the tide, and a spring tide came. Alas! in many of our congregations the tide is far out, if we are to judge by attendance at prayer meetings, which are a kind of gauge of spiritual life; yet let those who attend them continue to pray on.” (p.79)

That observation may be somewhat anecdotal, but it certainly strikes me as true. I have long been convinced that we will know that something really special is happening in the life of our church when our weekly prayer meetings start being strongly-attended.

Is the “tide” far out at your church? Maybe so. But who knows what the Lord may do (or when) if His people just continue to pray on together. If attendance at prayer meetings is a “gauge” of the spiritual life of the church, and if that gauge shows that our churches are in need of revitalization and revival, let us continue to pray together for a turning of the tide. Let us watch and pray for the spring tide to roll in.

David Dickson on the Importance of the Office of Elder

Elder DicksonIn his book, The Elder and His Work, David Dickson (1821-1885) starts with a chapter called “The Importance of the Eldership.” There he briefly makes his case that the biblical office of elder “is absolutely necessary for a healthy and useful church” (p.26). He writes,

“We need no new machinery in the Christian church. It is all provided ready to our hand in the Presbyterian system. What we need is more motive-power to set it going and keep it going. We need the baptism of the Spirit to fill us elders with love and zeal, that we may labor in our office and that the work of our hands may be established.” (p.26)

How often do we in the church look for “new machinery” (i.e. new programs, gimmicks, etc.) to increase our influence and outreach, while neglecting or overlooking the gifts that Christ has given to His church in the offices which He has ordained (both elder and deacon)?

It is not without reason that one of the primary things that the Apostle Paul tasked Titus with doing in the churches in Crete was to appoint elders. In Titus 1:3 he writes,

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (ESV).

Titus was to put things in order in the churches in Crete. And what was the first thing that came to Paul’s mind when he thought of a church being in good order? Elders. More precisely, a plurality of elders (i.e. more than one elder). It is not too much to say that in Paul’s mind, guided as he was by the Spirit of Christ, a church without elders was not properly in order, biblically-speaking.

Do we think that highly of the office of elder? Do we think of elders as being utterly essential to the life, health, and usefulness of the church? If not, it is a sure indicator that we need to recover the biblical view of the nature, qualifications, and work of the office of elder. If we were to do that, the church would almost certainly be in a much healthier condition, and would be far more useful to the Lord.

A Footnote on the Neglect of God’s Law

devoted7a-810x1280__82818.1478970628.315.315In one of the many footnotes in his book, Devoted to God, Sinclair Ferguson makes a sobering observation about the all-too-common tendency in many evangelical circles today to neglect God’s law:

“The contrast between older evangelical teaching on the law and its relative relegation today may be illustrated by the fact that the catechisms written by Luther and Calvin at the time of the sixteenth-century Reformation devoted considerable attention to the exposition of the law. They were followed by the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms which devote around one third of their questions to the exposition and application of the Ten Commandments. By contrast, were catechisms to be written today by evangelicals it is doubtful whether the law would receive much if any detailed attention.” (p.163, footnote 6)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism devotes no less than 41 (Q.41-81) of its 107 total questions to dealing with a right understanding of the ten commandments.  In other words, nearly 40% of the Shorter Catechism is spent focusing on this summary of the moral law of God! Likewise the Heidelberg Catechism includes 24 questions (out of a total of 129), divided up over the span of 11 Lord’s days, to the same subject. So 11 out of the 52 weeks in a calendar year are to be spent dealing with instruction on God’s moral law.

This should be instructive to us as believers. How much time do we spend considering God’s law or meditating upon it?  Psalm 1 calls upon us to delight in “the law of the LORD, and so to meditate upon it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This should also be instructive to those of us who have the privilege of serving the Lord as pastors & teachers in His church. Do we devote much time & attention to teaching God’s law to His people? If we do not, we would seem to be neglecting, not only the law of God, but also the best examples from among our Reformed fathers in the faith.

We must not relegate the law of God to the status of a mere footnote of the Christian faith.

Sinclair Ferguson on the Law and Love

devoted7a-810x1280__82818.1478970628.315.315Many in our day seem to pit law and love against each other, as if love somehow renders the law of God unnecessary, or as if rules and relationships (or loving ones anyway)  were mutual exclusive. But is this the biblical way of looking at it? What is the right way to view the relationship between law (specifically the ten commandments) and love?

In his book, Devoted to God, Sinclair Ferguson writes,

“In fact love was always at the heart of God’s law. It was given by love to be received in love and obeyed through love. The divine commandments could be summed up in the great commandment to love God with heart, soul, and strength. Thus Jesus himself teaches that if we love him we will keep his commandments. Paul adds that rather than nullify[ing] the law the gospel strengthens it. Moreover specific laws from the Decalogue are almost casually sprinkled throughout the New Testament. Not only does love not abolish the law, but the law commands love!” (p.162-163)

Even in the very text of the ten commandments themselves this is explicitly stated. Look at the text of the 2nd commandment (as stated in Exodus 20:4-6):

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (ESV, italics mine)

Those who commit the sin of idolatry are said to “hate” God. Why? Because they commit idolatry. In other words, if they truly loved God, they would not commit idolatry (or have other Gods before Him, or take His name in vain, etc.). Love, in many ways, is defined by its actions. So while love certainly involves more than our outward actions (i.e. it includes right motives), it does not involve less than our outward actions (i.e. it doesn’t render them meaningless or unnecessary).

And how does God Himself describe those who love Him? As those who “love me and keep my commandments” (v.6). So love and commandment-keeping go together – and they always have. And (as the saying goes), what God has joined together, let no man separate.