Soteriology in the Middle (Part II)

“…He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”[1]


In my last post I said that in following posts we’d be taking a look at what I’d call a “moderate” and more biblical perspective on Soteriology in contrast to the classic Calvinistic and Arminian systems of Soteriology.  Specifically in this post we will be talking about regeneration- the new birth.  The Bible is very clear that the person who is truly a child of God,[2] accepted and forgiven for their sins in light of the atonement of the cross of Christ being applied to them through faith is born-again.  The Holy Spirit has come to indwell them[3] and sealed them for the day of redemption.[4] He has made them a new person spiritually speaking.[5]

But how does the new birth come about in a person’s life?  That is really the question that is before us.  Do people have enough good left in them in their fallen state to simply make a decision to trust in Christ when presented with the gospel message apart from any divine enablement to do so as Pelagians teach?  Is a person born-again in a moment in time because by exercise of their own free-will they put their faith in Jesus’ work performed in their behalf on the cross as Arminians would contend?  Does God sovereignly make people born-again before they exercise or express faith in Jesus as Calvinists would say?  Or is there another way in the midst of these approaches to answering this question that gives the best account for the most biblical passages that deal with the issue at hand?


Arminianism and Calvinism on Depravity

Pelagianism is generally rejected by orthodox Christians. So we won’t specifically deal with that system of thought in this post other than to say up front that what is often flippantly termed “Arminianism” today is truly Pelagianism when you consider primary manuscripts written by the architects and proponents of these systems.  So let’s shift our focus to the Arminian and Calvinistic answers to our question.  We will start by stating the Arminian and Calvinistic views of the depravity of mankind.  The Arminian position (or Remonstrance if you like) was originally articulated by Jacobus Arminius (16th-17th Century).  Arminius taught in regard to human depravity that “In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”

To be fare, I did not represent the Calvinists as well as I could have in my descriptions of some of the five points in my last post.  Some dear and close Calvinist friends pointed these spots out to me in regard to my last post and I want to remedy those mistakes here lest I inadvertently create a straw man to argue against in dealing with these subjects.  So in putting forth the Calvinistic view of the depravity of man (a view not drastically different from Arminius’ own view described above) allow me to quote from a classic Calvinist confession on the subject- the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

“As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation.  As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to that which is good.  Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God.”[6]

What both of the above views have in common is that they agree on what we would theologically call Total Inability.  The idea is that due to the fall of mankind human beings cannot, will not, and do not desire to trust in Jesus for their salvation apart from God liberating them from their bondage to sin and enabling them to do so.


Scriptural Affirmations of Total Inability

Both classic Arminianism and Classic Calvinism affirm Total Inability because Scripture itself does so.  Consider the following verses:

John 6:44- “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

 Romans 8:7-9: “Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.”


God Must do Something

Most orthodox believers agree in light of verses like those above that there is a spiritual blinding[7] and/or deadness[8] that must be illuminated[9] or reversed through spiritual resurrection which must take place to enable a sinner to trust in Christ.  Again, the question is what is that work that God does to bring about the ability of a person to trust in Jesus and believe the biblical gospel?  Arminians believe God has universally granted the ability of all individuals to choose Christ by restoring their originally God-given free will through Prevenient Grace.  The doctrine of Prevenient Grace is defined well by the Church of the Nazarene:

“…through the fall of Adam they (Humans) became depraved so that they cannot now turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works to faith and calling upon God. But we also believe that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed upon all people, enabling all who will to turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.”[10]

Calvinists have a different explanation of the work that God does to enable faith in the life of the sinner.  They infer from verses that teach Total Inability that the work God does to produce the possibility of faith in the elect is the work of new birth (regeneration), though in truth verses describing Total Inability do not explicitly say this is so or demand such a conclusion.  They contend that regeneration precedes faith.  This is a logical inference they term as a logical necessity based on their view of Total Depravity.  As noted in my last post on Soteriology R.C. Sproul states the Calvinist view that regeneration precedes faith this way: “We do not believe in order to be born-again.  We are born-again in order to believe.”[11]

Let us be clear that if a person is born-again before they exercise or express faith in Jesus that they are saved before they exercise or express faith in Jesus.  In saying they are “saved” I do not mean that they have experienced every dynamic of biblical salvation at the moment of regeneration.  For example I understand that glorification is part of the wider biblical theology of salvation and that no Calvinist would claim a person is glorified at the moment of regeneration.  None-the-less, God Himself equates the work of regeneration with being a literal work of salvation in the person who experiences the new birth.  Consider the following statement of God in Holy Scripture:

“…He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”[12]

Some Calvinists understanding of the weight of stating that a person is “saved” before they exercise or express faith in Jesus because of God’s secret work of regeneration in their hearts causes them to prefer that their position not be characterized this way.  But as shown from scripture above this would necessarily be the unavoidable reality if regeneration does indeed precede faith.  Even the great preacher and committed Calvinist C.H. Surgeon acknowledged that when people are regenerated they are saved.  In his sermon Warrant of Faith he conceded, “…man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate.”[13] But we are saved “thru regeneration” according to the Holy Spirit inspired Apostle Paul.  If advocates of the idea that regeneration precedes faith don’t like to be characterized as believing a person is saved before they exercise or express faith, it is their position that must be abandoned and not the characterization of their position by those who articulate it scripturally.


What Does God Do?

I am in the moderate middle on the exact work that God does to enable sinners to put their faith in Jesus for salvation.  I am not Pelagian because I believe in Total Inability.  I am not Classically Arminian because I do not believe that mankind is automatically and universally in a state of Prevenient Grace due to the merits of Christ on the cross and therefore able to make a free-will decision to trust in Jesus at any given time.  I am not a Five Point Calvinist because I don’t believe the work that must be done on behalf of sinners to enable them to come to faith is the work of regeneration.  I am somewhere in the midst of each of these views.

Stated positively, I believe that all people are totally depraved and as such are in a state of Total Inability when it comes to desiring or being able to actually choose to respond to the gospel message in faith.  I believe that God sovereignly works in the hearts of people to bring them to a place where they understand their need to trust in Christ and understand that Jesus is the solution to their sin.  I believe that upon bringing them to this place of understanding those who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”[14] are effectively brought to faith in the gospel and repentance through the convicting and enabling work of the Holy Spirit.[15] When the sinner enabled by God heeds the command of the gospel in faith they are regenerated through faith as scripture declares, and born-again.[16]

Soteriological Moderates (which I consider myself) are able to affirm verses on Total Inability while not twisting sequential verses which describe the order of events at salvation and demonstrate that faith is the vehicle that brings regeneration into a sinner’s life, not the result of regeneration.  A handful of verses that clearly demonstrate that faith precedes regeneration would include:

Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him you also [trusted], after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

According to Paul the order of salvation goes like this: A person hears the gospel.  Next, they believe the gospel.  Lastly, having believed the gospel they heard they are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  They hear, they believe, they receive the sealing of the Spirit.  A Calvinist ordering of this might say they hear, they receive the Spirit, they believe.  That is not what the verse states.

Galatians 3:2; 14c: “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?… we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Again, reception of the Spirit is through faith.  Faith is not the result of involuntarily being born-again through a secret work of God in the heart.

John 20:30-31: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

The Apostle John, a teacher of Total Inability in John 6:44, found room in his understanding of Total Inability to believe that faith still precedes new life (regeneration).  He compiled the massive account of Jesus’ life and miracles found in the Gospel of John so that his readers might believe that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of God,” and that “believing” they may have life in His name.  Note that new life through Jesus comes to a person after or through believing according to John.  Again, a Calvinist rendering of this would say something like, “I write of these works of Jesus that God might give you spiritual life so that you can believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  Again, this is not what scripture says.

What I’ve chosen to call illumination (2 Cor. 4:6) must remove the hindrance of Total Inability so a person can put their faith in the gospel to be born-again.  Some kind of illumination must precede faith so that we can believe.  But these sequential verses demonstrate clearly, and I believe irrefutably, that faith precedes regeneration.  Such a picture is portrayed in Acts 16:14:

“Now a certain woman named Lydia heard [us]. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

At the moment of this woman’s conversion “the Lord opened her heart” to enable her to believe the gospel Paul was preaching.  Upon opening her heart she was able to “heed” or respond to the gospel Paul preached.


Nagging Questions

A defining moment in my position on the order of salvation came when I began to think about how Old Testament saints were saved, or counted righteous before God.  Most evangelicals believe that the gift of regeneration is a special work of God which He performs in His people during the New Testament age alone.  If the Calvinist is right and regeneration must occur in a person’s life before they can exercise saving faith in the gospel, how is it that Abraham “believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” if he was never regenerated?[17]  To be clear, Scripture tells us that the thing Abraham “believed” (or put his faith in) so as to be accounted righteous before God is nothing less than the Gospel!

Galatians 3:8-9: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, [saying], “In you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who [are] of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Indeed it is not only Abraham who was able to respond to God’s promises in faith apart from being regenerated, but Hebrews chapter eleven lists a mountain of Old Testament (and therefore unregenerate) saints who somehow were able to believe in the promises of God looking forward to the cross in a saving way.

So here’s the issue: I believe that Abraham was in a state of Total Inability.  I believe that I (in the New Testament age) am in a state of Total Inability.  God did something in Abraham that was effective and sufficient to enable him to have saving “faith” in the promises of God that was not regeneration!  And yet, though I am no more dead in my sin than Abraham, the Calvinist would tell me that I must be regenerated or I cannot exercise or express faith in the gospel.  Am I to conclude that Abraham was less bound by Total Inability than I am?  Or am I to conclude that I am dead spiritually to a more intense degree than Abraham?  This is inconsistent and contradictory and devastating to the idea that regeneration must precede faith.

When I’ve asked the question of how Old Testament saints were able to exercise faith apart from regeneration to advocates of the doctrine that regeneration precedes faith I have yet to see them answer how this can be.  They end up affirming the moderate position by saying things like, “Well clearly God had to do something even though it wasn’t regeneration.”  To which I say, ABSOLUTELY!  And I would contend that it is the same thing He does to enable people to come to saving faith today.  He works in us to enable the response of faith to the gospel.  Upon our response of faith to the gospel we are born-again.  Call that work of enablement what you will.  I’ve chosen to call it illumination.  What’s clear is that while a sovereign work of divine enablement must precede faith, faith most certainly precedes regeneration.  Until next time…

[1] Titus 3:5b NKJV

[2] Romans 8:14-17

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:19

[4] Ephesians 1:13

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[6] A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

[7] 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

[8] Ephesians 2:1-3

[9] John 12:32; 16:7-11; Acts 16:14

[10] Nazarene Manual. 2005-2009

[11] Sproul, R.C. Chosen by God. Page 73.

[12] Titus 3:5b Emphasis Added

[13] Spurgeon, C.H. Warrant of Faith

[14] 1 Peter 1:2 NKJV

[15] John 16:7-11;

[16] Acts 16:14 NKJV

[17] Genesis 15 6 quoted in Galatians 3:6 NKJV

What if…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this simple phrase.
To me it speaks of possibility.
It speaks of transformation.
It speaks of the ways and thoughts of God.

What if…

…we made the greatest commandment our greatest commitment?
…we remembered that you can’t fulfill the great commission by neglecting the greatest commandment?
…we lived out the reality of the resurrection?
…we really chose not to worry or fear?
…we were as committed to unity as those who tried to build the Tower of Babel?
…we were really servant leaders?
…we love our wives as Christ loves the church?
…we didn’t use the ministry to keep us from having to interact with God?
…we viewed the church as a disciple making organism and not as a business?
…we stopped thinking that we had the right to share our opinions and stopped judging another man’s servant?
…we really believed in Jesus’ power to reconcile?
…we were really overflowed by the Holy Spirit?
…older pastor really mentored younger pastors?
…those same older pastors allowed younger pastors to be who God made them to be?
…younger pastors realized that they don’t know what they don’t know?
…we truly prayed without ceasing?
…movements and denominations didn’t resist the continual reforming of the church?
…churches gave their savings to the work of the kingdom in the least reached countries in the world?
…we truly died to ourselves?
…we stopped defining ourselves by what we are against?
…we realized that men will know that we are his disciples by the love we have one for another?
…we only cared what God thought?
…the church stopped being trendy and started being timeless?
…we truly fed the poor?
…we were more Christian than American?
…we were concerned enough for people to actually really share the life-giving gospel with them?
…we stopped snuggling up to the proclivities of our culture?
…we talked to people in person rather than behind their backs?
…if we truly feared God?
…we became the servant of all instead of lording our position over people?
…loved the whole world as God does?
…we lived out the grace that we proclaimed?


“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-8


“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [and be] their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4


If there is a day on which a bride appears nearly in a state of perfection it is  her wedding day.  She isn’t wearing old and tattered clothing.  Whatever perceived flaws of skin and appearance are covered.  For many brides the joy of being united to their groom in marriage subdues even the most negative dispositions or would-be sources of discouragement on that day.  Little things that would seem monumental on any other day seem to fade away into insignificance at the joy of how she looks, feels, and what she is experiencing.


So it will be with the Bride of Jesus Christ (the church) in a similar way on her wedding day, yet her perfection will be entirely literal.  The scars she now bears will be utterly healed.  Her struggle with sin and unfaithfulness will be transformed and redeemed.  Her vulnerability to deception and discouragement will vanish.  God’s Word goes so far as to tell us that every tear will be wiped from her eyes.  Death will hold no threat in her life anymore.  And the greatest of all gifts is that she will never be separated by time, space, or sin from her glorious Groom, Jesus Christ!


The Bride

In the Bible the Bride is symbolic of the  church.  She represents all of Jesus’ people who are His through faith in the biblical gospel.  If you know that you’ve offended God in your behavior, thought-life, and attitude toward Him, there is good news! God came to earth as the Man Jesus Christ on a rescue mission of love for you.  Knowing you could never live a truly righteous life from the inside out, Jesus fulfilled that requirement for you.  He lived a perfect human life in your place never acting unrighteously at the level of thought, desire, emotion, or behavior for you.  He took the penalty you deserve to undergo because of sin.  The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death and Jesus died in your place for yours sins on a roman cross some two-thousand years ago.  Further, while on that cross He became a propitiation for you.  This means He soaked up the wrath of God the Father which was directed at your sin like a sponge soaks up water.  And victory of victories, He rose from the dead conquering satan, sin, demons, death, and hell on your behalf.  His offer of love is that if you understand your sin and trust in all He did for you to be a sufficient remedy to your sin and a bridge between you and the God from whom you are separated, He will forgive you.  He will clear your spiritual record forever.  He will consider you His perfect child, and part of His perfect Bride, in spite of your enduring imperfections in this life.


Already/Not Yet

Faith in this gospel brings the believing person into an already/not yet relationship to individual perfection.  Positionally, because of our faith in the gospel, we are already considered perfectly righteous because our proverbial spiritual bank account has been credited with the very righteousness of Jesus.  This is due to what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange.  At the cross Jesus took all of my sin. At the moment I trusted in the gospel Jesus credited me with all of His righteousness.  This Great Exchange makes us positionally perfect in this life.  And yet, practically and experientially we are not yet literally perfected until we as the Bride are united to Jesus our groom in the age to come.  Until that time we still sin, struggle, and wander at times.  But even in the hardest of times we have hope because we know that “He who began a good work in (us) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)



What the already/not yet reality of the Bride of Christ means for us today can be looked at from at least two ways:

1. Pastors need to keep working toward a perfect church with perfect Christians, but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians prior to the wedding day.  Lately I’ve found myself dealing with a lot of heart-breaking sin in the lives of God’s people.  Fornication, adultery, marital conflicts, sectarianism, and other things seem to abound.  At times I’ve found myself wanting to think that somehow our church is disturbingly special in our consistent experience of these things.  But when I surveyed the writings of the New Testament recently what I saw was that nearly every book contained words of necessary rebuke and exhortation to sinning Christians, and an imperfect Bride.  Pastor, the reason that letters containing rebuke about sexual sin, relational sin,and  rebellion are the letters God saw fit to govern His Bride for all time is that those problems would persist in ALL generations of her stay on earth, including ours.  If you really seek to be the church and lead the people to holiness we should expect dealing with an imperfect bride in our hearts and churches to be the norm.  The reason we as people need pastoring is that we are not yet a heavenly people, though we will be one day.  Keep working toward spiritual growth and maturity in yourself and the body, but don’t think you and your church are special because you don’t hit that mark before the wedding of the Lamb.


2. Christians need to keep working but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians on earth as well.  One of the most common and saddening things I see in the church is people quickly leaving their local church when they’ve been offended by another sinner.  God’s call to us is to hold each other accountable and be willing to be held accountable.  If we continue to simply go find another group of Christians to hang out with at every little offense we face we will never learn how to pursue reconciliation with others through the gospel, our offenders will never grow because of a lack of loving but firm accountability in their lives, and we will continue to bounce from church to church as we are let down by the reality of offenders causing offenses in every house of prayer we enter.



The Bride of Christ is already perfect positionally, but we have a long way to go practically.  Let’s all look forward in eager anticipation of that day of perfection when we meet Jesus together face to face, and let us practice the grace of the gospel toward one another in the meantime as the Holy Spirit trains us together in this life for that final and only true utopia.

A Text – It’s Meaning and It’s Significance

As we are almost at the Christmas holiday, I have found myself teaching at a number of different places. I taught a midweek service at Cornerstone Napa (Bill Walden’s church). I taught this past Sunday at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA (Bill Ritchie, and soon to be me). Finally I will teach this Christmas at Calvary North Bay here in Mill Valley. What is fascinating is that I have taught the exact same text (Luke 2:1-7) all three times. But although teaching the same text, I have taught three different messages.

You may be saying, “How is that possible?”. Let me explain it to you. I have been highly enamored with what E.D. Hirsch described in his book “Validity in Interpretation” as the difference between the meaning of a text and its significance. The meaning of the text is what the original author wanted the original hearer to understand and was thus attempting to communicate. This speaks to the original intentionality of the author. The significance of a text would then be what the text means to the hearers in our present context. This is the Spirit’s intentionality in applying the text to a specific and local congregation. This drawing out of the significance for today is something that Eugene Peterson calls Contemplative Exegesis (on a side note, if you have never read Peterson’s books specifically on the pastoral ministry, boy are you missing out! He has 5 books specifically on pastoring and they are rich, searching and disarmingly personal). John Stott spoke of the same idea by saying “We need to find both what meaning of the text is and what it means for us today.”.

What I have been realizing is that Biblical exposition should be equal parts meaning and significance. We need to explain what the text meant from the author to the original hearers AND how these concepts speak prophetically into our current context. I have found a usual leaning in most Bible teachers to one or the other position. There are teachers who think that the only way to teach is to give the meaning (and unfortunately often malign those who focus more on the other position). They say that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to make application (which is true of course). Or there are those who only explain its significance for today (and never even think to do the socio-historical work to understand a text in its original context). I have sought to find that proper middle ground where each message is an explanation both of a text’s meaning and its significance.

So, now back to my three different messages on Luke 2:1-7. At Cornerstone in Napa, Luke 2:1-7 was explained both in its meaning (about the sovereignty of God (in getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem) and the humility of God (in the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth). But its significance was about doing ministry in an incarnational way. Allowing the radical identification of Jesus with humanity to be an example for us on how we out to interact with those outside the church. At Crossroads in Washington, I explained the same meaning of the text. But that message was about ‘The Calvary Road to Bethlehem’ and how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth mirror our experiences as we travel the Calvary Road of discipleship. Each verse had its own application. My teaching at Calvary North Bay (which will be on Friday, December 23rd) will have the same explanation of meaning. But the significance will be different seeing that it will be my last teaching at the church before I move north. So the significance of that text at this moment for the precious folks at Calvary North Bay will be unique to our collective experience.


“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”[1] ­– Luke speaking of Jesus

“I also look at the men God gathered around me and I sort of chuckle as I see the ones that God has used…The whole purpose of God is to choose those who really aren’t qualified, but then to anoint them with His Spirit.  Then, when the results are forthcoming, it’s an amazement and wonder to the world.”[2] – Chuck Smith

One of the most interesting things about the ministry of Jesus is that He selected leaders to train who would one day lead His people before He began gathering followers.[3]  He called men to Himself.  He called them to spend long seasons with Him away from their families.  He called them to leave their former occupations and come after Him.  And as you read of the ministry of Jesus in the synoptic gospels you see that these men hardly left Jesus’ side for three years.

Jesus and Leadership Multiplication

What’s all of this about?  It was about training the future leaders of His people.  In addition to spending lots of time praying alone with the Father, preaching to large crowds, and being available to serve individuals He came across who were in need, Jesus spent a ton of His time training leaders.  The twelve apostles were constantly sitting at His feet learning.  Generally speaking, Jesus would spend time formally teaching them in a small group settings.  This would be followed by giving them opportunities to serve.  He would send them out to preach, baptize, and work miracles by the Holy Spirit.  After these field trips the apostles would then come back to Jesus and He would give them more instruction, and the whole thing would begin again.[4]

As the story of the New Testament unfolds, Jesus spent three years teaching these men, testing these men, and allowing them to watch Him work.  At the end of that time Jesus died for our sins, was buried three days, and rose from the dead.  He then spent forty more days giving the apostles the last bits of information and training they needed before ascending back into heaven from where He came and pouring out the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost.  From that moment when they received the power of the Holy Spirit those men began to lead Jesus’ people in His physical absence, under His leadership, in accordance with the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

The Apostles and Leadership Multiplication

Fast-forward in the book of Acts and you find the apostles training other men after the pattern of how Jesus trained them.  In the missionary journeys of Paul you often see him traveling with a group of companions who were assisting him and learning from him.[5]  After serving faithfully alongside Paul and being tested in regard to personal gifts and calling, young men like Timothy and Titus were placed as pastors over local churches they had assisted in planting.[6]  The Apostles practiced Jesus’ example of multiplying leaders for the people through apprentice and assistant style training, and placed new leaders over new church plants wherever they went.[7]

Early Church Pastors and Leadership Multiplication

The teaching of the New Testament is that this element of intentionally training leaders in an apprentice style system wasn’t to stop with the apostle’s individual ministries.  Paul wrote as much to his assistant Timothy when he was pastoring the church in Ephesus: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”[8]  Timothy was to see carrying on this method of multiplying leaders, which began in Jesus’ training of the twelve and continued in the apostles’ training of early church pastors like him, as a major part of his duties as a pastor.


You, Me, and Leadership Multiplication

I would suggest that the mandate to multiply leaders after the example of Jesus and men like Paul and Timothy is as real for church planters and pastors today as it was in the first century.  In seeking to follow the example of the New Testament in this area I began to pray for a church planting team when I sensed Jesus was going to move us to Utah to start Refuge Church.  The Lord provided a great team for the task.  When we held our first service, though we only had about twelve people in attendance, we had a small worship team, Bible teacher, and Sunday school teacher prepared to serve.  All of these roles were filled by six adults Jesus put together for our church planting team.

In addition to prayerfully putting together a planting team when we started the church, we also started Refuge School of Ministry when the church began to grow and become more established.  The school of ministry is designed to be a church-based context in which men who sense a call to ministry and church planting can get theological instruction, character strengthening, and spiritual gift and calling discernment through practical service opportunities.  Usually our class times consist of our pastors teaching and praying with ten to twelve guys who sense a call to ministry.  The Lord has blessed this venture in faith in huge ways.

A Command to Leaders

We didn’t start the school of ministry to be cool, or because we saw a burning bush telling us to do so.  We did it in response to the example of Jesus, the apostles, and the command of 2 Timothy 2:2.  My challenge to you if you are a pastor is to ask yourself if you’ve taken the command to multiply leadership seriously enough.  If not, why not?  If you are an aspiring church planter, pray that God would give you the right team to assist you.  With a team you can not only do far more than you could on your own, but you will be able to begin training leaders from day one who will be able to assist you, and perhaps even plant more churches in the future.  Hopefully you don’t just want to plant a church, but a church-planting-church.  The fact is that if you don’t pray and work toward multiplying leaders you will never have a church-planting-church in the long-run.  The Lord wants to train others through you.  Let Him.


Sending New Leaders

The Lord is fulfilling the vision he gave to us at Refuge Church to be a church-planting-church.  He is training men in our midst.  He is giving clarity on place, timing, and methods for planting new churches.  We believe that as we train men and pray for the Lord’s leading He will continue to reveal specific the men He is calling and gifting to plant more churches from within our local body.  This conviction is born out of what we see in the book of Acts.

“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’  Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands of them, they sent them away.  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went…”[9]


 Is this dynamic happening in your leadership team?  If you’re looking to plant a church, is the training of new leaders something you’re already praying over as you prepare to step out in faith? Multiplying leadership is a New Testament church planting mandate.  Brothers, let’s do our job.

[1] Luke 9:1-2 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Pages 107 & 108

[3] See Matthew 4:18-25

[4] The Master’s Plan of Evangelism. Is a great resource that explains Jesus’ method of training and discipleship.

[5] Acts 20:1-6

[6] 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5

[7] Acts 14:23

[8] 2 Timothy 2:2 NKJV

[9] Acts 13:1-4a NKJV

Is Allah the One True God?

My city, outside of Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan, hosts the third largest Afghan population in the world (30,000 – 40,000 depending on who you ask).  My home is a ½ mile from Little Kabul – an area of kabob restaurants and Afghan owned businesses.  Four doors down from the church is the Ibrahim Khalilallah (Abraham the Friend of God) Mosque.  The Lord has led CC Fremont into the ministry of Muslim evangelism.

Being involved in Muslim evangelism brings one face-to-face with certain questions.  One question I have always answered in the negative is: Is the God of Islam the one true God?  I have always thought myself justified in my negative response because some of the character descriptions of Allah in the Qur’an, its Unitarianism as opposed to Trinitarianism, and its lack of incarnational mission paint Allah in much different colors than Yahweh in His full Biblical portrayal.  But I think I am changing my mind – and here’s why.

Many who argue that the God of Islam is not the one true God go on to assert that the God of Judaism is the one true God.  And yet the God of Judaism seems closer to the God of Islam than to the God of Christianity.

  • Both Judaism and Islam are Unitarian, not Trinitarian.
  • Both deny that Jesus is the Son of God (and if our theology has a Christological lens, this is devastating).
  • Both deny the atonement.  Islam denies the crucifixion of Jesus whereas Judaism denies the resurrection of Jesus.  (Interestingly enough, Jesus holds a much higher pace within Islam than He does within Judaism).
  • Both deny justification by faith and assert salvation by self-effort.

I don’t see how the denial of Islam’s’ God would not force denial of Judaism’s God.  And if one asserts that Judaism worships the one true God, I don’t know how you could deny Muslims the same status.

Consider also Paul’s sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:23).  Upon noting the plurality of their gods, he says,

For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. NASB

Implicit in Paul’s announcement is that they worship the one true God!  They worship Him in ignorance, but He is the object of their worship.  Yet –

  • this does not mean that God is pleased with their worship.
  • this does not mean that this worship rightly relates them to the God they worship.
  • this does not mean that the worship of the one true God saves them.
  • this does not mean that their worship ennobles them.

In speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  John 4:22

Grammatical note: in both Acts 17:23 and John 4:22 the relative pronoun HOS is used.  It can be mean who or what depending on context.  It is interesting that, in the KJV, the translators used the word whom in Acts 17:23 and what in John 4:22, both referring to God.  I think it is safe to say that both rabbis, Jesus and Paul, think of God as a who and not a what.  Jesus doesn’t tell the Samaritan woman that she has the wrong God, but that she has a misguided worship.  Paul tells the Athenians that they worship the one true God in ignorance.  Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she, and by implication the Samaritans, worship the one true God in ignorance.

Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but by Him.

  • Muslims fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.
  • Jews fail to come to the Father for they do not some through the Son.
  • Worshippers of the unknown god fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.
  • The Samaritans fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.

The problem for the Athenians, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Muslims isn’t the God they worship, but their worship of that God – it is an ignorant worship – not a false God.  Ultimately, their problem isn’t with the Father, but with the Son.

Coming to the provisional conclusion that Allah is the one true God has relieved me of a burden I didn’t know I was laboring under.  There has been in me a desire to speak with Muslims in a way that communicates (ever so subtly) that I have a profound disrespect for Allah.  To compare Allah of the Qur’an and Yahweh of the Bible will yield some interesting results, but will not result in a Muslim being impressed, let alone converted.  I see now that I don’t need to speak with a  Muslim about the misguided notions they hold about God, I just need to speak to them about Jesus!  Through Christ, God comes into focus.  Wow!  What a burden lifted.  When they look at God through a Christological lens, He will come into proper focus.  Any kind of apologetic or polemic that attempts to equate Allah with the Moon-God or any other derivation gets about as much traction as someone trying to convince us that Jesus is the mythical lovechild of Semiramis and Tammuz.  Since Islam knows nothing of God as Father, the focus on Christ is paramount because in and through Christ the Father is known.

That Muslims worship the one true God, albeit imperfectly, is a thesis that is making more and more sense to me.  What do you think?  If you disagree, just don’t write and tell me so, tell me why.  Who knows, you may win me over.  I welcome irenic discussion of this.  I am willing to yield to wisdom and good reason.

Finally, please pray for our outreach to Muslims.  So far, I don’t feel that we’re doing a good job.  Pray that the love of Christ would be seen in us and the power of the Holy Spirit would flow through us.

And please, always remember –  Muslims are not the enemy, they are victims of the enemy.

For Church Planter or Pastor’s Wife – By Lynn Fusco

Hey everyone, Daniel here. So about a week ago, I walked into our bedroom and my wife, Lynn, was furiously typing on her computer. When she finally looked up, she said, “I am writing an article for the wives of church planters.” Then she proceeded to return to her furious typing. Lynn has been involved in the three churches that I have had the pleasure of seeing launched. We got married when Calvary New Brunswick was very young. She was integral to the launching of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco. In both plants, she first started the children’s ministry and then after turning them over to capable leaders proceeded to start the women’s ministry (which she also started in New Brunswick). She did all this while we had small children. Not to mention that we got married not for her ministry prowess but to be companions in this life (which she has excelled at). It is fascinating for me to read about these things from her perspective. There’s a lot of road-tried wisdom here from my beloved bride.

Hello Ladies, if you are reading this than you are among the many that the Lord has placed warmly on my heart. Over the years I have watched my husbands joy at encouraging men with hearts to serve the Lord in church planting. I have rejoiced in my own heart at his articles knowing that any information and encouragement goes a long way. Recently, it has been coming to my spirit the brave women who stand beside their men. YOU. Some of you out of obedience to the Lords calling, some with the same heart as your husbands for the area and some because they married into an early church plant like I did. My desire is to share with you things from my personal flight over the last 8 years as a church planters wife with the heart that you will be strengthened and encouraged.

1. Plow hard, reap later

In a church plant, you generally have to start from nothing. You find a building to hold services, if you are lucky you find someone to lead worship, and you make sure you purchase your own coffee pots 🙂 Starting from nothing generally means that there is A LOT of hard work involved that may last for a couple of years, so get ready! My role has always been to get the children’s ministry up and running and then later the women’s ministry. That generally means teaching every Sunday, or doing nursery every Sunday. I remember here in California I did the nursery and kids church at the same time for a year as my son was the only child nursery-age there. I remember balancing the two simultaneously. As I taught the lesson, frequently, I would hear one of the children from kids church say, “OBADIAH!! Lynn, he’s at it again!” as Obadiah (my active two year old) joyfully dug in the large potted plant in the room we were renting.

As I look back over all those years and then again more recently with our church plant in San Francisco, I can see how the seasons change. In the beginning years you have to work really, really hard. This may mean that you are in charge of teaching Sunday school every week even when you are sick, it may mean that you are trying to find the balance of leading 2 ministries at the same time, it may mean that you “feel” like you are doing everything except preaching the message! IT WON’T ALWAYS be this way!! A season will come when God will bring nursery workers, a team of kids church teachers so you aren’t teaching every Sunday. Men and women who feel called to those very positions that you were working so hard in. You must plow through the hard ground before the seed can be sprung!

2. Show up! Show up! Show up!

One of the many exciting things about a church plant is that you NEVER know what God is going to do! You may have Sundays where its just you and your husband having church together in a big empty room. Or, you may have Sundays where the room is full. In church plants there is usually an ebb and flow in the congregation.

There will also be mornings where you just don’t want to go. Your mind, or body will say, “no one will really miss me today”. I have found from experience that on the days that you show up when you don’t feel like showing up, God generally has “something special” planned. It could be a conversation with a woman who just had a really bad week and just needed someone who cared to share God’s love on her or it could be that you bless your husband’s heart with out even knowing it because he just needed the support of knowing that his wife was in this just as much as he is.

Commit yourself to going and lean on God’s amazing GRACE when you are weary.

3. Be a Servant First

I will never forget the experience I had on our 2nd church plant here in Mill Valley. We had moved to California leaving our New Jersey church family behind. The NJ folks had adored my 2 year old son Obadiah. They had watched my tummy grow round with child and then came and celebrated his arrival. It was the usual custom after church for Obadiah to take turns asking some one in the church family to pick him up, so that he could reach the donut holes that everyone always brought. We left our NJ church as “the beloved” pastors family. I didn’t realize how much I took that for granted, nor how much I expected that to be the same in our next church-plant family. I was surprised and hurt when several of the ladies of the church did not like my son because he was so active. Many made a point to tell me how to mother and then went on to talk about his “behavior” to others. My heart was bruised. I went to the Lord and said “OUCH!! HELP!!!” (among other things in that conversation!)

The verse the Lord ministered to me was, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (phil 2:5-8)”

What He was sharing with me was to be a servant first. Our family had a beloved reputation in NJ. Here in this church plant, I was to look at any area that needed help and then I was to jump in and work at it with all my heart and not expect anyone to love me, or my sweet family because of it. I was to do it all to please God’s heart for He saw me and was well pleased. Knowing this was my greatest reward.

4. Check it at the Door

I had to learn this lesson very early in our New Jersey ministry. As a pastor’s wife your role is to be there for people to talk with, rejoice with, cry with and encourage. In order to be available to the public YOU MUST check your own emotions at the door. What this means is that any un-resolved conversation, conflict, situation that you had at home or on your way to church, you need to give it to GOD. You need to “leave it at the door” before you walk into church so that you can be available to others. I remember countless times in New Jersey where Daniel and I would get into an argument right before we left for church and I would be FUMING inside when we reached church. Often times replaying the argument or conversation in my mind. I would “smile” at those around me but inside I felt down, angry or whatever the emotion inside me was. At those times I saw I was unavailable to minister because I was too consumed with my own thoughts or feelings than to engage with others.

You must leave your own “stuff” behind and trust that GOD will give you the grace you need to be available to others and the grace to resolve the issue that you are bothered with. He cares and loves you.

God understands the weight of the role He has called you to and wants to fill you with grace to move in it. But first you must leave it with HIM.

5. Obedience first, Heart later

The year and half spent on the San Francisco church plant was a tough year. I remember a couple of months before we opened the church to the public, the Lord had given me a vision. He revealed to me kind of warfare that we were going to encounter by planting a church in San Francisco, He did this to prepare my heart. The months to follow were rugged with personal warefare. Feeling beaten up by life, and having just handed the childrens minstry coordinator postion over to a young woman in the church, I was tired and my spirit run down with the battle.

That month the Lord started to gently speak to me about starting the women’s minstry. He was gentle. A loving poke here. Another loving poke, poke there. I ignored it. “I can’t Lord” I said. “I’m struggling as it is, let alone leading another ministry, I just can’t”.

The women who had approached me with the desire to start a ladies ministry, bonded together and hosted the first women’s ministry event. The attendance and joy in the air was abundant. On my way home from the event my heart burned with this desire. I kept crying out to the Lord “if there is going to be a ladies minsitry, it has to have MEAT for the girls to chew on!!” Again I felt the “POKE!”. “ALRIGHT!!!” I said. Was it easy? NO. Did I want to always show up? NO. But I KNEW I was called. I KNEW that I was doing what God had asked me to do, and I had my husband’s support. Even though I was in a rough season personally, the Lord gave me a heart for the ladies. I loved them and when it was time to turn the ministry over, I was sad to say goodbye to their hearts.

At times God is going to ask you to do something, maybe lead a minstry, maybe support your husband in the ministry even though you don’t feel ready for it, or something else….but you will find that if you obey and do what you know He is asking, He will eventually give you His love for the service HE has called you to.

There is nothing greater in my heart than knowing I did what I knew I was called to do, even if I didn’t think I did the greatest job of accomplishing it. I obeyed my FATHER.

6. Understand the Ministry that you are called to

I remember when I began the Ladies Ministry in Mill Valley, the Lord had given me a picture in my heart of the kind of women’s minstry he wanted. For this season He wanted a time where younger women and the older women study the Word and pray together. Through this example the younger women would learn by being surrounded by the older women of the church. My heart had such peace at this picture. However, I had one lady who did not like this “type” of ladies ministry. She used to call me often and tell me her strong opinions. Being younger than her I questioned myself, some times stressed that I wasn’t doing the right thing, etc. However this is what I learned: When God has called you to lead a ministry, ask Him for his vision and upon receiving it, stick to it.

You will have MANY women come to you with “great ideas” of how you “should” lead the ministry, and “great ideas” of the kinds of events you should host, but with an open heart you always need to go back to the Lord, and ask if these support HIS vision for the ministry He has called you to.

7. Know your Personal Weakness and put your armor on

We ALL have a personal weakness(es) in our characters that if left un-checked can be harmful to the minstry. Examine your heart and know what they are!! These areas will be the first areas that Satan will go after and try to use to derail your minstry and your husband’s mininstry. Whatever your weakness is, you must find a way to put your armor on so that it’s put into check.

8. Your Children

Church planting with young children can be very challenging. Obadiah was 2 years old when we started the Mill Valley church plant, and 5 and a half with the San Fransicsco church plant. Maranatha was 2 and a half years old. I would find I would come home from the church day tired and worn out, just wanting to put on a video on and not think which can not be the case when you are a mommy. You are on til they go to bed 🙂 Give yourself and your children grace. Acknowlege often that its a season in life just like having a baby. Takes time for the baby to grow before it needs you less.

One practical solution that we found was to hire a babysitter to watch our children during the fellowship time at church. This way our children could do laps around the hall under a watchful eye, freeing me up to minister to the body uninterrupted.

9. Find a “Seasoned” Pastors Wife and ask her to mentor you

As wives we want to share everything with our husbands. We want to ask them for their opinions, their thoughts, their ideas. This isn’t a bad thing. We are their wives after all! However, the enormity and weight of responsibilty that your husband carries in a church plant is unfathomable. I believe the Lord is the only one who truly understands this enormity.

Our husbands don’t want to spend extra brain space having to come up with ideas for another ministry. He has asked you to lead this particular ministry so that he doesn’t have to think about it. This is why it is so important that we seek out another pastors wife, who has been there “before”. Someone who you can run ideas with, someone who will teach you what has worked for them, someone who will encourage you in the new rode that you are on. Ask God to lead you to this woman. Remember God WANTS to help us!

10. Find a Prayer Partner

Whether its once a week, or once a month, find another woman whom you can share your heart with. Someone who is NOT in the church body. A woman who you can be yourself with and feel the freedom to be raw with when you feel down or discouaged. This special friend needs to be someone who has a heart for the Lord and will commit to pray with you. I know that these friends are SO hard to find. Ask God to reveal the right person for you. Some times this person will be the LORD HIMSELF until the time he brings you another.

11. You are in a Spiritual Battle

Its soooo easy in the midst of plowing hard, for your mind and heart to get discouraged,and apathetic. We forget to look at the whole picture. The picture being that we are doing is work for THE KINGDOM through faith. The enemy doesn’t like KINGDOM work. He HATES it and will try to detrail you, discourage you, give you a spiirt of apathy, anything to have you stop showing up for God. Saturday afternoons and nights in our home are generally not too much fun. Its the day of the week where marital fights brew, the car breaks down, the children won’t stop aruguing or you get sick. Do you get the picture?? And if your husband teaches a mid-week, its the same the day of the midweek. WE MUST LEARN how to wear our armor properly and to put it on every day.

12. Cast your cares on God for HE cares for you!!

Most importantly, guard your private time with HIM. A dear friend of mine recently shared something with me that the Lord shared with her. God told her to “measure the worth of her day by how much time she spent with Him in prayer and in His Word”. WOW right?! We NEED GOD!! We are NOTHING without Him. HE sooo much wants to fill us, help us, love us, make us laugh and smile, give us gems to give to others. He wants us to bring and lay down our burdens at HIS feet so that He can make us whole. He wants to impart HIS wisdom and His nature to us. Give Him that chance ladies! MAKE TIME for your Savior!!


“Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.’”[1]

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”[2]

A hot topic in the body of Christ in North America these days is the issue of unity.  Simply, followers of Jesus are wondering about what kinds of churches and Christians they can affirm and hang out with.  Can a Calvary Chapel Christian hang out with a Reformed Christian?  Can a seeker sensitive church affirm a fundamentalist church?  Can a pastor who favors expository preaching go to lunch with the topic-driven preacher across town?  Can we develop meaningful relationships with anyone outside of our immediate denomination, movement, or dogmatic theological persuasion?  Let me share some things from a couple different meetings I’ve recently attended that have caused me to revisit the issue of unity in the body of Christ amongst pastors and congregations afresh.

A Tale of Two Meetings

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to gather at two different meetings with two different unity dynamics.  The first meeting was with four pastors including myself from different denominations, theological and educational backgrounds, and churches with different philosophies of ministry.  The second meeting was with most of the Calvary Chapel pastors of Northern Utah and their wives.

Meeting with the Calvary Chapel Camp

At the meeting with the Calvary Chapel pastors and wives there was lots of good fellowship, food, and encouragement.  It was a good chance to get to know each other better and pray for what God is doing, and just catch up.

The unity factor in this meeting was primarily founded on the Jesus of the Bible and the biblical gospel.  But there was more to our unity than Jesus and the simple gospel.  That particular group had what we could call wider doctrinal unity as well.  In addition to the essential doctrines of orthodox Christianity we shared similar perspectives on philosophy of ministry, theological issues like eschatology and soteriology, and the method of Bible teaching (expository preaching).

Points of Greatest Impact

Having unity in Jesus and His gospel was definitely the most important thing to this group.  But it is true that we also had a special connection over secondary issues like those named above.  We agree on many things that a person doesn’t need to affirm to be considered a born-again Christian with a genuine relationship with Jesus.  I enjoy having wider doctrinal unity with friends.  It’s fun to talk about and appreciate our unique role in the body of Christ locally and globally.  So, enough about that; let’s move on to the next meeting.

Meeting with the Multi-perspectival Camp

My other meeting was with some pastors from a multi-perspectival frame of mind.  In this group, instead of having wider doctrinal and methodological unity, we had what you could simply call gospel unity.  This is because, beyond the biblical gospel, we have differing perspectives and practices on a number of things.

One of the pastors is definitely the guy with the coolest church in town.  They’ve got an awesome building, awesome music, inspiring messages, lots of art and technology, and all that good stuff.  They do really well reaching the un-churched and younger generations in the Salt Lake Valley.

One of the other pastors at this meeting is a seasoned man with lots of wisdom and experience.  He is from a Dutch Reformed background, and serves in our area as a sort of pastor of pastors helping planters and their families stay healthy and network together.

Another pastor in the group has been a prominent leader regionally in the Evangelical Free Church, and is now one of a number of teaching pastors at one of the largest churches in Northern Utah.  The church at which he serves gets much love and criticism in our area because on the one hand they seem to be reaching lots of people. But on the other hand they are seen by some as a kind of Walmart style church because they’ve successfully worked through a few church mergers which resulted in one multiple campus church which used to consist of at least four independent churches.  No matter what your opinion is about the philosophy of ministry of this church, the truth is that Jesus is using them to save many people in Northern Utah.  They are being used greatly by the Lord to reach Mormons and former Mormons in our area, and I praise God for that.

Lastly, there was me!  I am the lead pastor of a Calvary Chapel affiliated church called Refuge Church in Riverdale, UT.  If you were to come to our church you’d typically find loud music, one hour expository sermons, and an atmosphere of love.  As of the time of this writing we are planning our sixty-sixth baptism in the past fourteen months which is to take place on Christmas day because Jesus has been graciously saving and changing lots of people through a less than two-year-old church-plant.  Most of the people whom Jesus has saved at Refuge are burnt out on religion because of the influence of the predominant religious institution in our state.  They are normal people, with human problems, looking for a God of grace and transformation.

Obviously, this group of pastors could come up with many things on which they have differences of perspective and practice.  Some of us prefer topical preaching while some of us prefer expository preaching.  Some of us have a more Arminian bent when it comes to salvation, and some of us are decidedly Calvinistic and Reformed.  Some of us preach for thirty minutes, and some of us preach for over an hour.  We could potentially go on for a while listing differences of perspectives, doctrinal positions, and methodology represented by each man at this meeting.

Points of Greatest Impact

In all of the differences one might be able to deduce from the men represented in this meeting, it wasn’t our differences, but the things in which we had unity that impacted me most.

Confession time: In the past I have definitely spent much of my time beating up the body of Christ with which I don’t have wider doctrinal unity.  I’ve been one of those guys content to read only books by guys I have full or at least buzz topic agreement (certain bents on the finer points of soteriology, etc.).  I have been content to mainly hang out with Christians and churches I have almost total agreement with, while criticizing any church or pastor that seemed seeker sensitive, topical, emergent, and on and on and on.

Time for more confession: I had even had some of the thoughts and emotions described above toward some of the ministries represented by the pastors who were with me in the second meeting.  About five years ago, the Holy Spirit worked me over in regard to my sectarian mentality, and I’m thankful for that.  Sometimes that residue of sectarianism still creeps up and I have to kill it, and the pride that spawns it in my heart.  This meeting helped me do that again.

I saw a number of things in this meeting that both challenged and encouraged me which spurred me on to write this post:

1. These guys showed love for our brothers in Christ that I wasn’t sure I possessed.

The entire point of this meeting from the perspective of these men was to figure out how they could bless Utah church-planters.  They didn’t care if the guy was Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Reformed, Arminian, or what, as long as they stood for the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel.  I saw in the eyes, and heard in the voices of these guys a love for other brothers that was born simply out of the reality of being brothers in Christ with them!  I honestly didn’t know if that kind of heart was beating in my chest with the same genuineness and grace I sensed in these men, and I prayed for it silently right in the meeting as the Holy Spirit was challenging me through what I was seeing.

2. These guys showed incredible love for me which I knew I didn’t deserve.

Additionally, I was humbled by the love these guys had for me.  As I sat and listened to these guys I couldn’t help but wonder how I had ended up at a meeting with men Jesus was using so much.  And yet, it didn’t matter to them that I was younger, different in some ways, or whatever.  They believed we could work together for the good of the kingdom beyond our wider doctrinal and methodological issues, and they were glad I was there.  They even wanted to hear my ideas!

3. These guys really are on the same mission to which Jesus has called me and the church I lead.

No matter what differences the men in this meeting have, we have the more important things in common.  We worship the same Jesus, preach the same gospel, and advance the same kingdom.  Those common bonds are greater than any differences we possess, even important differences.

4. These guys really do have the same enemy that I do.

This last point was perhaps most impacting for me in regard to unity.  As each man shared about spiritual warfare in their life, it occurred to me that we were not only unified in our Savior and mission, but in our enemy.  Each man had dealt with spiritual warfare in the form of demonic dreams, depression, and sickness.  We’d dealt with all the same kinds of satanic opposition to the work Jesus had called us to complete.  As we talked about the struggles and challenges of serving Jesus in a demonically oppressed place like Utah, it suddenly became even clearer that we are certainly not fighting for different teams at the end of the day.  We go about the fight differently.  We emphasize different weapons at times.  But when it comes down to it, we’re fighting for the same kingdom, and we’re fighting against the same enemy.


If you struggle with sectarianism, repent and be blessed.  Whoever isn’t against you is for you.  I’d encourage you to meditate on Luke 9:49-50 and see what the Holy Spirit has to say to you.  Let’s enjoy the wider doctrinal unity we have with other believers, churches, and pastors in our unique theological and methodological camps.  But let’s also enjoy simply having gospel unity with those outside our specific camps.  Find and pray with pastors and Christians of other backgrounds.  Develop relationships of encouragement with them.  The very witness of the gospel depends upon it.  Let me leave you with a prayer of Jesus He offered to the Father on behalf of all of His people, world-wide, of all generations:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”[3]  


[1] Luke 9:49-50 NKJV

[2] Psalm 133:1 NKJV

[3] John 17:20-21 NKJV

The Smell of Booze, Cigarettes, and Perfume…

The best odors my sanctuary has ever had!  On January 2, 2011, I received a very hard call.  A 20 year old female had taken her life the day before.  The family was devastated and they wanted my help.  I assured them we, the church, would do whatever we could do to help them through this very difficult time.  Long story short, I officiated the funeral services at the church and the place was packed–literally standing room only.  As the service began, it was clear that this was not a Christian crowd.  The smells of booze, cigarettes, and perfume were strong and distinct.  The hopelessness was heavy in this room as Christ was not known by the majority in the crowd. This was a sweet opportunity share to the hope I have in Christ to this group desperate for any sort of hope.  It has been almost a year since this event, and we have seen much fruit from this horrible event.

I would like to share some things I have learned from this event.

1.  Pastor, be out in the community.  Good things happen when you are out.  Get involved in the community you live in.  When I was in seminary a missionary came and shared about their ministry.  She said something I found very profound, “We share Christ because we love the people; we don’t love the people in order to share Christ.”  You may have to ponder that one for a while before you get it.  Do you love and invest in the people in your community genuinely?  If you do they will know it.

2.  Fruit takes time.  Results never come as fast as we like.  As I enter my fifth year at Valley Baptist Church, I am continually amazed by a visit from a family, or see something happen in the life of an individual that I encountered years ago.  I am reminded that my responsibility is to be faithful and God will be the increase in His own timing!  I believe we have to take the long-term approach in reaching our community.  It is more about planting roots, serving, and plowing away in the short term…but then a day comes when fruit starts coming from years of labor.  Don’t loose heart!

Making Missionary Christians

“Do you love Me?…Feed my sheep.”[1] – Jesus

“…the church exists for the edifying or the building up of the saints; to bring the saints into full maturity so that they might engage in the work of the ministry.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“Preach and teach the Word—the very life of the church depends on it! It has the power to save lives, change lives, and give life.”[3] – Brian Brodersen

When men who are called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God preach the gospel, people become new creations.  They come to spiritual life for the first time.  This is what happened on the day of Pentecost.  The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are told that upon hearing the gospel from the lips of this imperfect but Spirit-filled man who was chosen by Jesus, over three-thousand people believed in Jesus and became born again.[4]  We may not see three-thousand people come to Jesus when we preach, or maybe we will.  What we can be sure of is that if we are called to plant churches someone is going to come to Jesus from time to time when we preach the gospel.


The Vision of Jesus for His Church

The truth is that Jesus doesn’t just want people to be saved; He wants people to be discipled.  I like to think of a disciple as a spiritual apprentice.  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven He told the twelve: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”[5]


According to Jesus you need to do two things to become a disciple: First, you need to get baptized publically demonstrating that you have repented of your sin and trusted in His work on the cross for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Second, you need to begin learning to live by His commands as explained by the apostles and prophets to whom His commands were originally given.  The cool thing is that we have access to the commands of Jesus that were received by the apostles today in the pages of the Bible.  This means that people today can be born again through faith in the gospel message, and then become disciples by being baptized and beginning to learn to live by the teaching of Jesus that we find in the Bible.


Missionary Training Centers

Church planters need to see the local church communities that are gathered through their preaching as missionary training centers.  In fact, Jesus’ original intent for giving leaders to His church is that those leaders would teach His people, disciple His people, and train them in the Word that they might be able to serve Him effectively in their individual callings.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this in Ephesians four: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[6]


Each type of Spirit-gifted man listed above has in common the fact that they are all communicators of God’s Word in one way or another.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers all have their own version of a Bible communicating ministry.  According to Paul, Jesus gave men with these gifts to the church specifically that through their teaching the rest of the church would be equipped to serve God in their respective callings.  This is discipleship!  Gifted Bible teachers teaching Christians to obey Jesus’ commands for their lives is the picture in Ephesians four, and it is Jesus’ plan for how His command to make disciples is to be accomplished.


This means that churches that are merely evangelistic are only doing half of their job at best.  Jesus style churches don’t just get people saved by giving them the gospel; they equip and disciple them through teaching them the Bible.  The other side is true as well.  If a church is only focused on deep teaching and doesn’t charge the people to take what they learn in the Bible and put it into practice on mission in their personal lives, they are merely encouraging spiritualized consumerism.


Getting Our Priorities Straight

If you want to be a church planter, you must have this straight.  If you don’t set up systems for discipling new converts and training Christians in the Word you will never have a missionary church that is going into the world to do the work of the ministry.  You will have a bunch of unhappy baby Christians who are so hungry because of a lack of being fed the Word that they will eat each other, and you.  If you feed them the Word you will see the love of God in your church.  You will see Christians mature in their relationship with Jesus and start living like Jesus.  You will see them begin to share the gospel in their lives.  You will see them take care of one another.  And yes, you will see those who merely want to consume and never contribute hit the road.  But the result will be that you will have a vibrant local church that really is a missionary training center that is being used by Jesus to advance His kingdom.


I want to leave you with a biblical picture of the first local church that was birthed by the gospel, nurtured in a community of discipleship, and used to bring many other souls into the kingdom as a result.  This can be your church if you do it God’s way.


“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  Then fear came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” [7]


Summary and Exhortation

That dynamic, Spirit-filled, loving, sharing, and kingdom spreading local church began as a group of newly saved Christians who, “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine.”  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Do it.

[1] John 21:17a-c NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel. Page 3.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 10.

[4] Acts 2:41

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV

[6] Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

[7] Acts 2:42-47 NKJV