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d.a. carson

May 09, 2011

Shrinking WorldI suppose it will not surprise you to learn that I maintain a list of future topics I hope to write about on this blog. Near the top of that list is one I titled simply, “Matthew 18 and the Internet.” That is an issue near and dear to me. Let me explain.

Through my years of blogging (I’m coming up on 8 years of it now) I’ve often written critiques of books and even some people or the things they’ve done or the words they’ve said. In many ways this blog simply reflects the thinking I’ve done about issues that arise within the church. I do not really know what I think or what I believe until I write about it, and I tend to share my thinking through the blog. And when I write about people or their books, it is nearly inevitable that someone sends me an email or leaves a comment saying, “Did you follow the procedure laid out in Matthew 18?” This is sometimes a kind suggestion and sometimes a harsh rebuke. But either way, it almost always seems to come. This was true when I wrote critical reviews of 90 Minutes in Heaven and The Shack. It was true when I shared some concerns about men whose ministry I respect. In each case, people suggested that I ought to follow Matthew 18 and speak to the men themselves before publicly critiquing them.

The Internet has made the Christian world much smaller, allowing more Christians to have a voice that extends across the globe. And with this new ability to communicate comes new questions about how we are to deal with conflict, how we are to deal with questions and concerns. Matthew 18 is a text most of us know well, and one we quickly turn to when grappling with such issues.

In the most recent edition of Themelios, a theological journal, D.A. Carson addresses what he calls abuse of Matthew 18. Because Themelios is not standard reading for most of us, I thought I’d share some of Carson’s perspectives on this issue. I found it very helpful and feel that it offers a lot of biblical wisdom.

Carson forms his arguments around 3 points: the context, the offense and the motives.

The Context

Whatever the sin is that is in Jesus’ mind as he speaks the words of Matthew 18:15-17, what is clear is that it takes place in the context of a local church—a local gathering of believers. If we are going to extend this passage to a much wider context, such as a book that has been widely distributed and a blogger who has written a review of it, the text will need to support this. I believe we have a lot of trouble allowing an honest and accurate reading of Matthew 18 to extend so far. It seems clear that the sin of Matthew 18 is a private and quiet kind of sin, the kind that only a very few people have noticed. Perhaps you have spoken to a friend and heard from him that he is cheating on his taxes. You would then be following Jesus’ teaching to follow the pattern he laid out. As Carson says, “The impression one derives from reading Matt 18 is that the sin in question is not, at first, publicly noticed (unlike the publication of a foolish but influential book). It is relatively private, noticed by one or two believers, yet serious enough to be brought to the attention of the church if the offender refuses to turn away from it.”

October 20, 2006

Friday October 20, 2006

Conference: Jacob Hantla will be liveblogging the God is the Gospel Desiring God Regional Conference this weekend. John Piper will be speaking. Check in for updates.

Reformation: The Synod of Dordt poster from Reformation Art is now ready and looking good. “It is an impressive 24” x 36”, printed on 100 pound cover stock paper and treated with an aqueous protective coating.”

Church: You know the church is in a sad state when it relies on this kind of gimmicks to draw people in and keep them there!

Evangelism: The Reformed Evangelist has a link to a Way of the Master video which answers Rob Bell’s “Bullhorn Guy” film.

Discernment: The Point (Breakpoint’s blog) has an interesting article about The Lost Tools of Discerning.

April 26, 2006

The first session features Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. The message, which has the theme of “The Pastor’s Understanding of His Own Role” is titled “Three Marks of a Faithful Pastor.” It is drawn from 1 Corinthians 4 which contains a striking contrast between the real ministers of Christ and the imposters. This passage shows us three marks of a real minister.

A cross-centered message (verses 1-7) - In this passage we see the phrase “the mysteries of God.” Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not be dividing among themselves over unimportant divisions. There should be no division between ministers of that same gospel. Ministers of the gospel are the stewards of mysteries. A steward is not an owner but someone who has been entrusted with something else. A church is given to a pastor in trust.

Even Apostles were fundamentally servants, for they had no authority to spread anything other than the gospel of Christ. Pastors are called only in so far that they give God’s message to His people. It is God who owns the church and He has a message to His people. He will, through his kindness and mercy and grace, entrust that message to mere men. Mark encouraged pastors to know and understand and believe that God’s Word makes God’s people. Thus pastors are called to humbly minister to others with and through this Word. In verse two we read that the pastor must prove faithful to the charge given him. “We are not called to be original, but to be reliable,” he said. He also quoted D.A. Carson who says “What matters most in God’s universe is what God thinks of us.” Pastors must remember that they cannot please God if they live to please men.

The recurring theme of these verses is that the pastor is a steward who will be called to give an account for the message that has been entrusted to his care.

A cross-centered life (verses 8-13) - Paul turns to sarcasm in the next verses, mocking to godly effect the Corinthians’ prosperity (whether it was real or imagined). Many of them were feeling confident and fulfilled, yet regardless of how they felt, Paul pulled them back to reality and showed them that they really don’t “rank.” Paul rejects the type of “reigning” that the Corinthians advocated. He remarked on how different the Christian life is than the imposters had taught the people. Despite what the Corinthians believe and despite what so many people within evangelicalism believe, there is a better way than the wisdom of the world. Pastors must preach Christ and Him crucified. If Christ was pierced and punished and crushed and wounded, and if Paul was also scorned and rejected, how can today’s pastor expect any different if he is to be faithful to the One he serves? True ministers are happy to be despised if, somehow through this, Christ can be proclaimed. This was the experience of Paul, even as he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth.

Dever challenged pastors to inconvenience themselves in order to serve others. He taught that a pastor’s own comfort is a danger to his own soul. We all have a bias towards our own comfort and pastors need to be active in identifying and fighting against that.

Cross-centered followers (verses 14 to the end) - Pastors have a difficult time putting themselves forward as examples, but this is something they are called to do. Disciples learn from other disciples just as children live within families to learn from others. Pastors are to be examples of people who love Christ and their congregations more than they love themselves. A Christian minister should live out a Christ-like life and lead others to do the same. Paul loved the people of Corinth in such a deep, pure way and so he urged them to imitate him as children imitate a father. A pastor puts upon himself the right kind of pastor when he calls upon others to imitate him. He does a good thing when he makes himself an example of godliness. A pastor is called to teach better than he can live. A pastor can do this. But he is called to live in such a way that he illustrates the great truths that he preaches from God’s Word. The example of the pastor should be followed in the church.

Paul effectively orders the Corinthians to humble themselves. We don’t often think of humility as a duty, but it is a crucial Christian virtue. It is a confession that we are not always right but that God is! We cannot claim to be Christians if we do not have a desire to be humble. That virtue is a handmaid of all the other virtues. Of all people, pastors need to be pastors.

Paul finishes the chapter by saying that he will come to Corinth (Lord willing) and says that he will investigate these things. Paul challenges the Corinthians to ask whether these false teachers are bearing fruit—if people are being saved by their ministry. He warns that if necessary he will come with a whip of sharp, devastating reproof. Paul shows that a congregation is a proof of a pastor’s ministry. There is a certain necessity of Christian church growth; not necessarily numerical growth but spiritual growth. God has left us a visible representation of Himself in His church, in each congregation He has called pastors to serve. We will see more of the image of Jesus in the local church than we ever could in a picture of His likeness.

What Paul is saying is what we need to hear. The important issue of recovering churches is putting the Word at the center and this happens most notably through preaching. The men who will speak this week are men who are bold in challenging men to grow in Christ. They are men who have placed preaching at the center of their ministries.

Dever concluded with an exhortation to watch for false teachers in our day—teachers who proclaim a worldly message that removes the cross as the center of the church. These men masquerade as sheep while all the while sowing a deadly seed through the body of Christ.

Following this session, Bob Kauflin led us in singing “There Is A Fountain.”

August 06, 2004

I had planned on writing something about procrastination but decided I’d do it later.

I’m funny.

Anyways, I was thinking today about some similarities between The Passion of the Christ and September 11. That’s a strange duo, I can’t deny, but hear me out.

After the Western world was shaken by the events of September 11, many Christians became convinced that this sort of event would drive people back to the church. And sure enough, in the weeks immediately following the event it seemed to be true as pews were more full than they had been in many years. People were shaken to the core and returned to their roots - family roots and often spiritual roots. But it took only a month or two before the people who had drifted in drifted right back out. At the one year anniversary of the attacks, Barna released a study which showed that very few people credited the attacks with having any impact on their religious beliefs. Bible reading, prayer, church attendance and small group attendance remained largely static. Many Christians found this surprising.

The Passion of the Christ was regarded by many as the greatest opportunity for evangelism since Pentecost. Data gathered in the months subsequent to the release of the movie prove that it made no significant impact either on Christians or on unbelievers. In the end it was near-total failure as a tool for evangelism and churches across North America bear this out.

Rather than critiquing these events as means for evangelism or leading people into the church, I believe our response should be to acknowledge anew that God does not adhere to human wisdom. On our own these are the types of events we might assume God would use. But God has ordained that He will use means that seem simple and that seem foolish to bring people into His church. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” God does not save lives through movies or through tragedies; He works now as He always has - by the faithful preaching of the gospel to those who are perishing. God’s wisdom uses foolish people to preaching a foolish message in a foolish way. God’s foolishness is so much greater than our wisdom. If we as a church could just learn this lesson we would not be swayed by every program and opportunity that comes our way. We would remain faithful preachers of the Word which contains the power of God to save lives.