Archive for November, 2007

On Writing Hymns

November 18th, 2007 Posted in Great Quotes

Here is a great quote about hymnody from the master poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “A Good hymn is the most difficult thing in the world to write.” [Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1905), 754].

Spiritual Vitality and Church Governance

November 14th, 2007 Posted in Puritans

Any one who has read this blog knows of my tremendous admiration for the Puritans. But they could be wrong at times. Their interpretation of Romans 8:26-27, which they consistently read as the Spirit’s inspiration of the believer in groaning prayer, is a case in point.

Another would be the presupposition that the New Testament contains an ecclesiology as accurate as an architect’s blueprint. The emergence of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism—both espoused by Puritans who treasured the Word of God—reveals that such a presupposition did not necessarily yield one ecclesial model. And while I have definite predilections in one direction, who am I to say that a Presbyterian like Samuel Annesley, the grandfather of the Wesley brothers, was not used by God?

Also wrong, I believe, is the further presupposition that spiritual vitality is yoked to one ecclesial model. I am a convinced Baptist and Congregationalist, but any fair reading of Church History forces one to realize that God, for instance, has used moderate Episcopalianism as found in the eighteenth-century Church of England or Puritan Congregationalism or the semi-Episcopalianism of the Arminian Methodists of the eighteenth century or the interesting structure of the Moravian Church—that “exotic plant” as one recent history has described the Moravians of England—to extend his kingdom.

In the recent resurgence of the doctrines of grace, it seems to me that some Reformed folk have learned this lesson, hence the appreciation for others of a different ecclesial ilk. Others, though still tie spirituality to ecclesiology with the consequent negative impact on the virtue of humility and usefulness in the Kingdom.

Most recently, this arrogance can be seen in those who would argue that one type of model of church growth is guaranteed to produce the goods. Some urge a model of church growth à la Willow Creek, others cite Emergent as the only way to go. Some embrace a business model with the pastor as the CEO—to be honest this I find the strangest of all recent church growth models—and tout this as the sure fire method of spiritual revitalization. How utterly mistaken!

God is sovereign and ecclesial prosperity his right alone to grant. To be sure, there are paths that must be followed, but they are ways of piety and morality, not this type of structure or that. I have been closely following the path of one denominational grouping here in Canada that have recently endorsed one model of denominational governance with the conviction that this is the pathway to spiritual vitality and renewal and growth. It is a model that outrightly rejects the heritage of this group of churches, for whom I have a deep love, and I fear that they have been sold “swamp land in Florida” and will have a rude awakening! I hope I am wrong, but the weight of church history is against the claims of those who pushed this body of churches down this path.

As D.A. Carson, whose life and writings have been a tremendous inspiration to me personally, has rightly said: “We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning.”

O Lord, humble your people, make them a people of prayer and just practice, zeal for the gospel and the salvation of sinners, and above all a passion for yourself and your glory—revive them wherever they are. Amen.

The Dancing Puritan: Shattering the Stereotypes Once Again

November 10th, 2007 Posted in 17th Century, Puritans

In the past I have gone on record as saying that I have never read through Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Some friends have been horrified at this admission. But this does not mean that I do not appreciate aspects of this remarkable work.

For instance, there is a tremendous scene in Part II, that second half of the work which many never look at—I have looked at parts even if I have not read the whole! Part II stresses the communal nature of the Christian life, with Christian’s wife, Christiana, and her family taking the pilgrim way along with a company including such characters as Feeble-mind and Ready-to-halt (Oh those names! One reason I have not been able to persevere with the whole).

In one priceless scene, their guide, Mr. Great-heart slays the Giant-Despair and the company of pilgrims destroy the giant’s refuge, Doubting Castle. Two of the giant’s prisoners, Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-Afraid, are rescued and they join the company of pilgrims, “for they were honest people.”

This liberation of the captives caused the pilgrims to rejoice greatly. Now, Christiana, we learn, “played upon the Vial and her daughter Mercy upon the Lute.” So they began to play, and “Ready-to-halt would dance.” So he took Despondency’s daughter, Much-Afraid, by the hand and “to dancing they went in the Road. True, he could not dance without one crutch in his hand, but I promise you, he footed it well; also the girl was to be commended, for she answered the music handsomely.”

If I didn’t already have a name for my blog, I would be half-disposed to call it “The Dancing Puritan”!

An Elder’S Prayer

November 7th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

Baptists have historically not been into written prayers. If you want to know why, read John Bunyan’s I will pray with the Spirit. But it is great to have recorded prayers from godly men of the church like C.H. Spurgeon that help us understand the piety of our Baptist forebears.

Here is a prayer from a man whom it has been my privilege to know and serve with, Dr. Colin Wellum, Sr., with whom I have served as an elder at Trinity Baptist Church, Burlington, Ontario. I have just offered my resignation as elder at this my home church and that because of the duties I now have as a professor at SBTS.

But it has been one of the deepest joys of my life to serve alongside Dr Wellum, and the pastor, Carl Muller, and the other elders. They are a remarkable group of godly men, for whom I give thanks regularly. May the Lord continue to bless this church and own it, as he has done in the past thirty-five years, for his glory.

Here is the prayer, it is on the blog of Colin’s son, Kirk Wellum: To God Be The Glory.

The Faithful Preacher: A Book Note

November 7th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century

Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007), 191 pages.

Like far too many church historians trained in the West in the past thirty to forty years, this book made me realize that I am woefully ignorant of the spiritual experience of African-American pastors and congregants. Rightly does John Piper state in his foreword to this volume by the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, that it “mines the unknown riches of the African-American experience” (p.9). Now, I had heard of one of the figures treated in this book, the Edwardsean Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), but the other two men—Daniel Payne (1811-1893) and Francis Grimké (1850-1937)—were completely unknown to me. And what I knew about Haynes could have been told in less than a minute!

What makes this volume especially useful is that Anyabwile combines his narrative discussion of the lives of these three pastors with three or four of primary sources from each of their writings. This work is ideal as a source-book to be included in any study of American Christianity. But it is also good for the souls of those called to be pastors and leaders in the Church of the living God.

Here, for instance, is a deeply challenging statement from the Methodist Bishop Payne: “…it is not the omnipotence of God that constitutes His glory—it is His immaculate holiness. And such must be the fact in the moral character of the Christian minister—not his talents…not his learning…but his holiness” (p.95).