I seldom write a blog to underscore a sermon that God has placed on my heart, but this will be an exception. When we glorify God, we make his name great. When Jesus in John chapter twelve turned away from a prayer for deliverance and turned instead to cry out for the Father to glorify his name, he was setting us a powerful example that we should always keep in mind. When our interests are consumed with safety, health, prosperity, and other comfortable outcomes, we fail to take into account that Spiritual heroism involves deliberately sacrificing these things and more for a greater cause. Whether we know it or not, we all need a cause greater than ourselves in life. It is fine to ask God’s help when we are in dire circumstances, but we must do so realizing that God may help us by strengthening us to endure things unto his glory. This is not a lesser answer than deliverance. In fact, it is a greater answer. The cross and resurrection required Jesus to avoid asking to be rescued and instead of this to surrender to God’s eternal purpose. We need to always hold before our eyes a vision of God’s eternal purposes. Many foolish decisions are made simply to satisfy our tastes and appetites rather than to glorify God.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Sometimes a verse that you have hardly noticed before just seems to jump off the page. Such is the case of this verse in Romans. Particularly this phrase spoke to me, “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” Can we actually engage in the lives of others through prayer. Apparently we can. In this case it is Paul’s hard struggle as a missionary evangelist in a hostile world that is in view. I submit that we can also connect with the lives of others such as those we barely know and those who are lost by faithfully praying for them. However little you may know about a person, when you pray for them, you are talking to the one who has every hair on their head numbered. The joining of our minds and hearts with the mind and heart of God has incredible potential. I was thinking about what seems to be missing in the average church in our day. We pray, but do we pray for lost people. I do not mean just general prayers, but prayers in which we call out their names to the Lord. Tragically the typical church member not only does not pray for the lost by name, but does not know their name. We know so much about methods and trends. Church leaders know so much about programming and image casting. We know about buildings and processes. What do we really know about prayer? I will conclude this brief note with a powerful statement shared with me by a great man of prayer. GOD DOES NOTHING BUT BY PRAYER, AND EVERYTHING WITH IT.
May God’s grace and kindness overflow to each of you who read these words. I am thinking this evening of the countless ways God has blessed me through the years. Tomorrow there will be a guest in our services whom I met around twenty five years ago. He was in Kingsville for purposes of work for a short time. He visited our services though he was Mormon by background. He was very troubled in his personal life and seeking answers. By the grace of God he came at a time and place where a people were committed to share the love of Jesus with him. He received the Lord and was baptized and spent a good deal of time with me in meetings where he could be encouraged in his faith. Then he was gone. Several months ago I heard from him for the first time in decades. I remembered him well. He told me of his firm faith in Jesus and of his marriage to a Christian lady. Tomorrow he plans to introduce me to members of his extended family who live near us. By coming and entrusting his family to my care, he has blessed me this Christmas with a great gift. We who preach and witness need to be reminded from time to time that our work makes a lasting difference. Nothing encourages us to be alert and attentive more than to know that lives are changed through our service. This is visit and event will be a special Christmas blessing for me. This gives me renewed energy to receive the next person God places in my life in need of the Savior. Perhaps I will meet that next person tomorrow.
I am often asked my opinion concerning the office of the elder as it relates to Baptist churches. First let me say that I have no quarrel with autonomous churches setting up the form of governance that they choose. If I choose not to lead the churches that I have been privileged to pastor to have elders, I assure you it will be for Scriptural reasons and not sentimental ones. The word “elder” in the Greek New Testament is “presbuteros”. It should be obvious that the Presbyterian church chooses to be elder led. The Church of Christ is also elder led due to the fact that the founders of the movement were once Presbyterian. There were those known as elders in Judaism in the New Testament times. However Paul seems to use the terms pastor, elder, and bishop interchangeably. I am of the opinion that the terms can refer to spiritual leaders such as pastors and pastoral staff. I also believe that in congregations there are elders in the sense of mature long standing believers and leaders in the church. What concerns me is turning this into an office for governance of the church. Every church that I have pastored has had those long standing mature believers (elders) whose opinions on church decisions mattered greatly. I usually identified these people soon after my arrival and discussed things with them that I wanted to lead the church to do. I valued their insights and needed their support. That is very different from designating a board of elders. It took Baptist a long time to process that deacons were ministers and not a board of directors. Surely we do not want to start that whole problem over with a board of elders.
So here is the central truth that I want to convey. There are those in any church who function as unofficial elders who are well established, wise, and looked to for leadership. However once you institutionalize that reality with official status, it is my view that you politicize the elder. Now the “office” of elder will be actively sought by those who want control. The true elder leads by his deep character, humility, and service. He does not need to be elected. His very love and service to the Lord gives him authority. An elected elder can occasionally be someone who sought the position over a period of time with an agenda in mind. Baptists for the most part have avoided the office of elder out of a conviction that the pastor is an elder and that he can work with other mature leaders to build a consensus about decisions to be made. Baptists have historically believed strongly in congregational involvement in decision making through committees or ministry teams who report back to the church. Deacons earn the right to have input in leadership through their involvement in ministry. A good pastor wants to know the thoughts of faithful deacons about important decisions that must be made. If a group of official elders takes away or modifies the leadership of the pastor or the input of the congregation, then in my view a church becomes something other that what baptist churches have historically been.
My final answer then is that I do not favor the institution of elders as an office. In fact, when I am asked to lead Crestview to sponsor a new church start, one of the first questions that I ask is about governance. If I am told that the form of governance will be an elder system, then I decline to sponsor the work. I have no quarrel with any church choosing the governance they want, but I reserve the right to favor the historical model that Baptists have followed. I still believe that the pastor needs to work directly with the people. I believe a wise pastor will seek to preserve unity and consult with his leaders. In my own experience, I have noted that with official elders there can be a tendency for the pastor to look to the elders for direction to the exclusion of the church. For me this is not the best model for advancing the Kingdom.
Most people are familiar with the Reformation. We have recently passed the anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold act of nailing ninety five theses to the door of the University Chapel in Wittenberg. What is not so well known is that all over Europe a group of reformers clamored for a complete reformation and return to a biblical model of Christianity. They called for a regenerate church who knew and understood the New Birth. They insisted that believer’s baptism was the biblical model. They had no patience with centralized control of churches, but had varying ideas about local autonomy. They not only believed the bible, but believed that it contained a model for the form and function of the church. It was out of this Radical Reformation that Baptists eventually arose. Many of these ideas had been shared through the centuries but were suppressed by a church reinforced by the state. Thousands upon thousands were put to death for daring to challenge the establishment. Even during the Radical Reformation thousands died through persecution and religious wars. Some would say that this was all unnecessary. Anyone would hope that freedom of conscience would be allowed at any time and in any place. However, tyrants cannot endure the idea that people should be able to think for themselves. This is true in governments and it is also true in churches. One of my modern heroes has a saying he often invokes. He is Ravi Zacharias, and his saying is “Let my people think.”
Amen and amen!