Archive for March, 2010

Seeking models for imitation: a biblical reason for studying church history

March 21st, 2010 Posted in Church History

Pace the canons of contemporary historiography, a key reason presented by the Word of God for the study of Church History is to find models for imitation. In Hebrews 13:7, the preacher of this tremendous holy text urges his hearers to “remember [their] leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Pondering carefully the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith.”


How is the Christian community to view such preachers/teachers of the past?


First, they are to “continue to remember” such men/teachers/preachers. The use of the present imperative stresses continual remembrance.[1] What is the nature of this remembrance?


It is summed up first in the participle anatheōrountes. This word has the basic idea of looking at something again and again, examining and observing it carefully.[2] One source defines it thus: “to closely view with attention, to scrutinize closely.”[3] Now, how is the participle being being used here? Is it imperatival, thus indicating a command in addition to remember?[4] Or is it the means by which we remember?[5] Either way, it is strong directive to spend time reflecting on the lives of past leaders in the church.


What especially is to be scrutinized? Their “way of life”—“the “sum total” or “achievement” of their day-to-day behavior, manifested in a whole life.”[6] Note what this says is required of leaders: godly lives and, to some degree, transparent lives. See also in this regard 2 Timothy 3:10–11. And what is required of Christians in general? This is nothing less than an admonition to be familiar with history of Christian leadership.


Finally, believers are to imitate (mimeisthe) the faith-informed lives of these men. The idea of imitation has already been mentioned explicitly in Hebrews 6:12 and by implication in Hebrews 11. Here, is nothing less than a key reason for the study of Church History.


This is not hagiography for undergirding the command to imitate these men’s faith is the object of their faith: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It is because Christ Jesus was at the centre of these men’s preaching and living, their lives can be imitated today since He never changes.

[1] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13 (Word Biblical Commentary, vo.47B; [Dallas: Word,] 1991), 522, note a.

[2] BDAG3, s.v. See also Lane, Hebrews 9–13, 522, note c.

[3] [Wayne Barber and Spiros Zodhiates et al.], Woodland Park Baptist Church: Constitution and Bylaws (Chattanooga, Tennessee: Woodland Park Baptist Church, 2003), “Appendix I: On Hebrews 13:7”, p.22 (available at:; accessed March 20, 2010).

[4] Thus George J. Zemek, “The Modeling of Ministers” in Richard L. Mayhue and Robert L. Thomas, eds., The Master’s Perspective on Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 268, n.61.

[5] Thus Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews. A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 346: “ ‘remembering’ through ‘gazing’.”

[6] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1977), 569. On the interpretation of ekbasis, see especially BDAG3, s.v.; Hughes, Hebrews, 569, n.18; Lane, Hebrews 9–13, 522, note d. Compare the desire of the writer in Hebrews 13:18.

A protesting Lord’s remembrancer

March 19th, 2010 Posted in 18th Century, Baptist Life & Thought

Following up the last post: this is why I spent two to three years studying the life and thought of John Sutcliff (1752-1814). Who, you might ask? Why the pastor of William Carey and one of the closest friends of the greatetst Baptist theologian of the eighteenth century, Andrew Fuller.

Reading Alexander Maclaren and how not to do history

March 19th, 2010 Posted in 19th Century, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Church History

We Evangelicals have a real problem in the way we do history and remember our own past. We highlight certain figures–the “great men” and the “great women”–in our past and the result is that we fail to understand often what God was doing in the given era which we are studying. For God never acts solely through one individual in the history of the church.

We talk about Athanasius contra mundum, for instance, but what about Serapion of Thmuis, and Hilary of Poitiers, and Ossius of Cordoba, and Lucifer of Cagliari and Eustathius of Antioch and Meletius of Antioch and Epiphanius of Salamis. Tell me, why is only Athanasius remembered? Something is very odd here. I could mulitply numerous examples here. To be sure, one reason, for remembering Athanasius is all that he wrote. The other men just listed, apart from Hilary and Epiphanius, wrote little. But church history is not only about books, even though that is the medium by which we have access to it. Our path to the past we have confused with the past itself. Church history is not simply the story of great theologians talking to each other.

My recent excursion down this way of thinking happened recently when reading some of the sermons of Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910). I suddenly realized that the sermonic ability and achievements of CH Spurgeon overshadowed everyone else of that era, including Maclaren. But Maclaren is good, very good. Pick him up and read him.

Learning from St Patrick

March 18th, 2010 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries

Lest anyone think I forgot St Patrick’s Day, I did wear green on the day (some friends urged me to wear orange, and one even black!!). But I wore green, which was also Jonathan Edwards’ favourite colour and, Edwards was convinced, was God’s favourite colour. No comment on that! I did offer some St Patrick’s Day ideas before the day, like praying for the Irish. But also here is an excellent word on Patrick from my Dean, Dr. Moore: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Saint Patrick . A lot to learn here!

The joy of our Readers’ Circle.

March 14th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

Had our Readers’ Circle last night. What a joy and privilege to meet with these brothers and sisters (last night there were eight of us, including myself and my wife—there can be up to eighteen to twenty) once a month and study a Christian book. We went through C.J. Mahaney’s Humility last year as well as Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God. This winter/spring it is C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory and last night it was the essay “Transposition.” This essay was not an easy read and really stretched us, which is a good thing, since we need Christians who can think. And as one of the brothers in the group, Steve Swallow, mentioned, the ideas in “Transposition” are central to Lewis’ other work, which I had not thought about before.

Why Baptist history is so vital for modern-day violations of freedom of conscience

March 13th, 2010 Posted in 17th Century, 18th Century, 21st Century, Baptist Life & Thought

One of our precious freedoms, won in part by Baptists, is freedom of conscience. Recently, the Hamilton Wentworth School Board here in southern Ontario has ruled that alternative lifestyles are to be taught in public schools and that parents will not be allowed to withdraw their children from classes when this issue is taught. The argument that I saw promoting this likened the issue to racism. Children are not exempt from classes dealing with the latter and therefore ipso facto should not be exempt from the former.

This is all very interesting and confirms my own conviction formed over the past few years that one of the greatest challenges to the Church in the West is going to be obedience to state matters that violate our conscience as Christians. 

In brief: this is not like racism at all. That is like comparing apples and oranges. I have known racism firsthand becuase of my Kurdish background in the UK–was regularly called Arab in High School and even called by the N-word. I loathe racism. But I do not believe sexual preference is in the same category. Nor do I believe the state has the right to dictate ethical values to myself or my children. Everyone has an ethical position and the state is hardly neutral.

Being a Baptist and having a rich heritage to draw upon I now see as so vital for the modern-day. We need to revisit the lives and thinking of Baptists from the 17 and 18th centuries.

Baptist catholicity

March 12th, 2010 Posted in 18th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought

Why do I love Andrew Fuller and his circle of friends? There are many reasons. One of them is this: their profound sense of belonging to a catholic body. Lest some of you think I think they were Roman Catholics, that is definitely not what I am saying.

What I am saying is this: through friendships with men like John Newton, John Berridge, Thomas Scott–all of them Anglicans–Thomas Chalmers and John Erskine–Scottish Presbyterians–the New divinity heirs of Edwards in New England–all of them Congregationalists–and even Hyper-Calvinists, like William Button and Arminian Baptists like Dan Taylor–these men had a balance in their Christian lives that is enviable. They knew they were Baptists and gloried in that heritage. They were Calvinistic and would not surrender these truths for the world. But their goal in life was not to make men and women Baptists or even Calvinists–it was to make them first of all Christians.

Honestly, it scares me today to see men building little fiefdoms based on secondary issues or even tertiary issues. And whose basic raison d’etre is not the great orthodox, catholic Faith. Oh that the biblical catholocity of Fuller and his friends might be more in evidence!

Addendum (written four hours later): I am a Baptist through and through (even closed communion). I am an unashamed Calvinist (certainly not hyper, nor committed to double predestination–here I follow the 1689). But I am first and foremost a follower of the Lamb. I want him, and his Father and Spirit, to be my all in all.

Addendum 2 (written a day or so later): That is why I am a Baptist, though. I am seeking to follow Jesus in all that he commanded (Matt 28:19-20). But I recognize and love brothers dearly who see things differently. For my position see John Sutcliff’s preface to his 1789 edition of Jonathan Edwards; Humble Attempt. It cannot be said better than he says it there.

An idea for St Patrick’s Day: praying for Ireland

March 12th, 2010 Posted in Prayer

Like any good Irishmen I love the fun of St Patrick’s Day. He is a great saint to remember.

But what about this idea this coming March 17: we pray for Ireland? If you need help, the John Owen quote a couple posts ago (on March 10) is a good place to begin.

Remembering Esther Edwards Burr

March 11th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized

Dr. Michael Haykin recently contributed a guest post on the blog of The Jonathan Edwards Society.  The subject of the post is Jonathan Edwards’ third daughter, Esther Edwards Burr.

Remembering Esther Edwards Burr

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research and Administrative Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

Praying with Jown Owen for Ireland

March 10th, 2010 Posted in 17th Century, Prayer

I love this quote from John Owen–may God make me faithful in prayer for that land:

“How is it that Jesus Christ is in Ireland only as a lion staining all his garments with the blood of his enemies; and none to hold him out as a lamb sprinkled with his own blood to his friends? Is it the sovereignty and interest of England that is alone to be there transacted? For my part, I see no farther into the mystery of these things but that I could heartily rejoice, that…the Irish might enjoy Ireland so long as the moon endureth, so that Jesus Christ might possess the Irish. …If they were in the dark, and loved to have it so, it might something close a door upon the bowels of our compassion; but they cry out of their darkness, and are ready to follow every one whosoever, to have a candle. If their being gospelless move not our hearts, it is hoped their importunate cries will disquiet our rest, and wrest help as a beggar doth an alms.”

The Steadfastness of the Promises, and the Sinfulness of Staggering (Works, 8:235-236).