The Lion and His Table

The Lion and His Table
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Church: 19a. How to Choose a Church: Preaching


One thing everyone looks for when looking for a church is good preaching.  It may be the first thing people look for, although few people can easily say which they weigh more of preaching, worship, music, fellowship, ministry, and mission when looking for a ‘good’ church.  I want to offer some thoughts along the line of what constitutes a ‘good’ church, starting with preaching.  Of all the ways one could classify different preaching, I want to use the old distinction in classical rhetoric of ‘logos’ (reason) for forensic speaking (expository preaching), ethos (authority) for deliberative speaking (topical preaching), and ‘pathos’ (emotion) for epideictic speaking (occasional preaching—here discussed as story-telling) to identify three broad categories for preaching.  Of course, a sermon my combine these forms, so the distinction is more about emphasis.

Three Types of Preaching:

1. The Expositor: Expository preaching is preaching that teaches the Scriptures.  The sermon will not have 3 points and an application because the points are determined by whatever is in the text of Scripture being exposited.  The main object is to explain the text of Scripture, including giving an explanation of the cultural context and the flow of the text before and after the passage in focus.  The expository preacher needs a good theological education.  The audience is seen as composed of learners (disciples) who need good teaching from Scripture.  They also have to be trained to listen to the sermon properly: with their own Bibles open, they are primarily asking, ‘What is the meaning of this text?’  The mode of delivery tends to be more academic and rational, but the focus is on Scripture as God’s authoritative Word, and it is, therefore, worthy of expositing.  Expository preachers often preach series of sermons in order to work through a particular book of the Bible—lectionaries disrupt this in-depth study. Expositors use commentaries extensively in preparation for their sermons, although, I would advocate, they should focus their reading on Biblical theology and ethics and use commentaries to explore a point.  John Stott would be an example of the expository preacher—and his personal study also led to writing a fair number of books and commentaries.

2. The Topical Preacher: Topical preaching is guided by whatever the preacher thinks the church needs to hear or by a lectionary.  While topical preachers may see Scripture as God’s authoritative Word, their preaching tends to focus more on the Church’s theology and practice.  One might think in terms of the similar difference between Biblical scholarship (expository preaching) and theological studies (topical preaching).  Scripture inevitably moves more into the background and into a proof-texting role while theology and practice are brought forward.  Topical preaching may be helpful when there are significant issues facing the church, but it can become problematic as a steady diet if the goal is to become Biblically focussed disciples instead of lay theologians.  There is also a danger of a topical preacher preaching his/her favourite topics, or never really allowing Scripture to speak without passing through a particular theological lens.  Topical preachers will move from one passage in Scripture to another, without going into depth about what the historical and literary contexts of a particular passage is.  ‘Big idea’ preaching is a form of topical preaching: it finds a single idea in a passage and focusses on that single point. The topical preacher’s sermons tend to be focussed on the audience as a group facing various issues together.  He/she tends to prepare the sermon by using a concordance to look up various places where a key word for the sermon might be found (‘hope,’ ‘love,’ ‘prayer,’ etc.)—although ‘big idea’ preaching at least avoids this approach.  The mode of delivery tends to be less academic than expository preaching, appealing more to the audience’s deference to the preacher’s authority as the community’s theologian.  The audience is trained to listen for orthodoxy more than interpretation of the text.

3. The Story-Telling Preacher: The story-teller’s mode of rationality is primarily emotions.  Hearers listen to be moved emotionally with love, anger, delight, desire, etc.  The mode of preaching is, of course, stories.  Billy Graham’s preaching is an example—and his preaching was, of course, topical—evangelistic sermons—even though full of stories that moved people to come to faith in Jesus Christ.  There is little need for academic study for story-telling preachers as so much of the success of their sermons is based on rhetoric—the successful communication of a thought through stories or a story.  A sub-group of this approach is quite popular in mega-churches, where the speaker often tells at least one personal story, thus developing a weekly window into his/her life for a devoted audience.  The quintessential example of this sort of speaking is the very successful radio show in America of Garrison Keeler, who has for decades told weekly stories about his fictional hometown, Lake Wobegon.  The large, programme-oriented church tends to want a rhetorically strong story-teller.  The focus in such rhetoric is not reason (the expository sermon) or authority (the topical sermon) but the emotional appeal of the speaker.  The mega-church preacher using this mode of preaching may set the stage with a microphone and a stool rather than a pulpit needed to hold the Bible.  He/she begins with a personal story, drawing the audience in to a personal connection that is actually imaginary—there is little contact with individuals in the audience.  The successful story-teller is not an interpreter of Scripture and not a theologian, and the audience learns to listen on the basis of emotions.

Evangelical Preaching:

Clearly, the ‘safest’ sort of preaching for Evangelicals is the expository sermon—teaching.  It places the emphasis on Scripture over theology or the preacher.  Topical sermons can fail to give due attention to what a Biblical author is really saying and train audiences to listen to ideas more than to interpret texts.  Story-telling sermons train audiences to be mesmerized by the speaking abilities of the preacher, ignoring the text of Scripture to an even greater degree.  However, there are times when a sermon can illustrate all three types of preaching.  Jesus, for example, was expositing the prophetic texts about God’s coming reign after Israel’s captivity due to her sins.  This exposition was, of course, also topical: the Kingdom of God.  And yet much of his preaching was by way of story-telling or parables.  This mixture was particularly appropriate for preaching that was starting a movement over against the entrenched errors of the Jewish leadership (scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and chief priests), for an audience not made up of Jewish scribes but village folk, and for an audience that was being trained to interpret the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus himself.

The expository form of preaching can feature as a major element in a worship service, as it often has done in Protestant churches since the Reformation.  But it can also be ‘moved’ to a time of teaching that is separate from the worship service per se, with the sermon during worship being a short homily on Scripture (say, 10 minutes) instead.  This takes the pressure off of expository preachers to try to teach a passage in the middle of worship as well as drive home an application at the end of the sermon.  It also allows teaching, given its own place in the community, to focus more on actual teaching of the text of Scripture—perhaps over a longer time as well.  The homily, then, could fit more easily into the service of worship but still have a Biblical emphasis.  The more that the Evangelical church becomes Biblically illiterate in a day when most people attend one 1 hour service a week, the more teaching in the church needs to be separated from that service in order to give it more attention in, for example, an hour of teaching before worship or in a separate weeknight time of teaching.

Preaching and Pastoring:

Preaching has a way of taking up a huge amount of a pastor’s time during the week.  This may be because of the pastor’s need to study, and one often used to hear seminary teachers suggesting that pastor’s spend 1 hour in study per minute in the sermon (not a view with which I concur).  This amount of time may also be because of the need to craft a sermon rhetorically, since so much of preaching has become a finely delivered piece of oratory—the more so for large churches drawing a crowd.  This is hugely problematic, though, for the health of the church.  A pastor who takes pastoral care and discipleship seriously will be concerned about having personal contact and relationships with individuals in the church, and this works against seeing pastoring as sitting in an office amidst a strong, personal library, breaking up study time with occasional hours devoted to appointments in the office or visiting the hospitals.  One way to get a better balance is to have pastors visiting families and individuals in their homes and in the community, spending less time in sermon crafting.  Of course, expository preachers need time for study, but less time is needed to study and teach than to study, craft a rhetorically interesting sermon, and preach.  I am a scholar who believes Scripture is God’s authoritative Word: I am wholly committed to in-depth study of Scripture.  But I have known too many preachers who spend inordinate amounts of time trying to prepare an interesting sermon for an audience that wants to be entertained more than taught the Scriptures.  And I have known far too many pastors who see their first responsibility as Sunday morning preaching rather than pastoring and discipling parishioners.


If the reader has followed the descriptions and arguments offered here, the healthy church is going to be the church that understands preaching as typically exposition—teaching—of the Scriptures.  When Luke describes the activities of the early church, he mentions the apostles’ teaching alongside fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2.42).  In fact, when we read ‘preaching’ in the translations of the New Testament, the passages regularly mean proclaiming the Gospel—evangelistic speaking—more than the Sunday sermon.  Jewish synagogues were understood as places to hear the Scriptures read and exposited—not as Greek or Roman public speaking events.  The early Church, in other words, put the emphasis on hearing, learning, and studying the Scriptures, not on getting a pastor to preach a sermon that bounced off a single text or taught a theological system or presented an emotionally charged message to the audience.  When looking for a church, find one that forces you to ask about the sermon, ‘Was I challenged to interpret the Scripture as the teacher exposited God’s Word, to follow the logic of the authoritative preacher, or to delight in the rhetorical skills of the speaker? 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Mission as Theological Education in Africa: 3. A Changing of the Guard in Theological Education for Mainline Denominations


Decline in mainline, Protestant denominations in the West is matched by decline in their theological seminaries.  We still live in a day when mainline theological seminaries in the West see themselves as superior to Evangelical theological seminaries in the West (which is demonstrably inaccurate even on agreed criteria of academic strengths).  We also live in a day when seminaries in the West see themselves as far superior to theological education outside the West—which raises questions about the criteria used for ‘superiority’. Even just a cursory look at the numbers, though, shows the need to ask the question, ‘Who is going to carry theological education forward in the 21st century?’  Putting questions about orthodoxy and health aside, the numbers themselves show that churches outside the West, like Evangelical churches in the West, are being put into the position of leadership in theological education and ministerial training in Protestantism.

The Episcopal Church in America and its Seminaries

To make this point, consider the case of the Episcopal Church in America.  It once had a number of theological seminaries that were considered academically strong even if, increasingly, they were an engine for revision of orthodox convictions of the historic Church that has led to the denomination’s decline.  As the denomination rapidly declines, the effect is also seen in the decline of the number of students in seminaries.  One might contrast these numbers to Evangelical seminaries in the West, where student enrollment remains fairly consistent (though there are changes to take note of here as well).  Yet the point here is that mainline denominations, present both in the West and outside the West, have their own story to tell.  Decline in theological education in the West matches decline in membership, but the growth of these denominations outside the West does not match the growth of theological education outside the West for those denominations.  There is something of a real crisis in Africa, for example, where the Anglican Church has been growing very fast but lay education and ministerial training lags well behind this growth.

Consider, then, the statistics for theological seminaries of the Episcopal Church in America.  The statistics provided here are those reported to the accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools, for three academic years: 2002-2003, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015.  The numbers given are for the head count (total number of students taking any course) and the full-time equivalency count (total number of students taking enough courses to qualify for full-time status in the academic year).  Along with declining numbers, the reader should notice the low numbers of students, mergers, and even closures of seminaries.

Berkeley Divinity School (operates within Yale Divinity School—no statistics)

Bexley-Hall Seabury-Western Theological Seminary Federation, Inc.:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         -                          -
2013-2014:         48                        34
2014-2015:         23                        18
(consolidating with Chicago Theological Seminary, July 2016)

Church Divinity School of the Pacific:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         136                      93
2013-2014:         79                        64
2014-2015:         58                        47

Episcopal Divinity School:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         101                      70
2013-2014:         72                        60
2014-2015:         46                        46
(ceasing to offer degrees)

General Theological Seminary:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         211                      161
2013-2014:         70                        68
2014-2015:         61                        61

Nashotah House:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         49                        41
2013-2014:         122                      101
2014-2015:         86                        82

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         199                      118
(merged with Bexley Hall in 2013)

Seminary of the Southwest:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         127                      86
2013-2014:         100                     92
2014-2015:         71                        65

Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry [Evangelical]:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         246                      119
2013-2014:         171                      170
2015-2015:         91                        60

University of the South School of Theology:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         220                      165
2013-2014:         143                      153
2014-2015:         104                      105

Virginia Theological Seminary:
YEAR:                  Head Count       Full-Time Equivalency
2002-2003:         249                      219
2013-2014:         245                      218
2014-2015:         164                      153


The story of the decline of a Western mainline denomination like the Episcopal Church in America is told in many chapters, not just in the declining number of members, churches, and students training at its theological seminaries.  Yet one thing that these declining numbers demonstrate is that there is a changing of the guard taking place in theological education.  The problem is that, where the Anglican Church is growing elsewhere in the world, development of theological education is not keeping pace.  The danger would be to try to answer this by setting up theological education in the way it was set up in the West, since these now declining seminaries were major contributors to the denomination’s decline in the first place.  Still, the Anglican Church in Africa is in great need of lay education programmes and ministerial training to support a healthy church on the continent.  This must be a priority in mission efforts for the 21st century.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Mission as Theological Education in Africa: 2. The Healthy Church, Growth, and Ministerial Training


The changing demographic of the Church in Western countries is a microcosm of the changing demographic of the global Church itself.  Mainline denominations in the West have been in serious decline in the West since the 1960s, but that does not mean that the Church is in decline in the West.  As David Goodhew and others point out, churches are multiplying and growing most everywhere.  Generally speaking, much of the decline, where it is happening, is due to a lack of health. The question to ask is, 'What makes for a healthy church, whether in the West or Africa, and what ministerial training will contribute to it?'

Church Growth and Decline in Britain

What is happening in, say, Britain is not simply a story of secularization and Church decline but rather a changing of the guard for the Church.  The mainline denominations are declining (with Baptists the exception): it was announced this year that attendance at worship in the Church of England has fallen to below 1 million—to 760,000, which is less than 2% of the population of England.[1]  The Diocese of Rochester has recently been declared insolvent.[2]  The castle is clearly crumbling.  While such statistics enflame the arthritic pains of oldline denominations, new churches (i.e., fellowships and denominations started within the past 100 years) are growing in certain areas.  

The real story, David Goodhew argues, is that one has to stop focusing on a narrative of secularization in the West and start focusing on what sorts of churches are growing and show health.  In my view, both seem to be true: ‘secularization’ seems, in fact, far too mild a term for what is taking place in the West, but surely Goodhew is correct to argue that there is an alternative story of healthy churches and growth in the West.  Where oldline churches became increasingly part of the establishment, they became perpetrators of the culture.  Then, when the culture became post-Christian in its morality and convictions, so did the oldline churches: they were agents of culture rather than Christian faith.  The new churches, on the other hand, are becoming the real ‘Church of England’ even as the Church of England is increasingly becoming a division of English Heritage[3]--a relic of English culture.  These ‘new churches’ share features in common with the growing Church in Africa; indeed, some of the growth in England is directly attributable to ‘African’ (often by way of the Caribbean Islands) immigration.

A forthcoming book edited by David Goodhew will explore trends of growth and decline in Anglicanism overall—a denomination of some 80 million in the world: Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present (Routledge).  This follows an earlier publication edited by Goodhew on Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the Present.[4]  The major thesis of the latter work is that one should not associate the decline of mainline denominations in the West with the decline of Christianity in the West.  There are even some areas of growth within the Church of England despite how church attendance overall is in rapid free fall.  In particular, the diocese of London grew over 70% since 1990.[5]  Outside the Church of England, black majority churches and new churches are growing.  Some 2 950 new churches were started between 1989 and 2005.  Several denominations have been growing, such as the Baptists—although growth has slowed since 2002.  Goodhew’s conclusion is that the real shift in church attendance has to do with a shift from obligation or duty to choice, a distinction that also separates classes: the elite once associated with the Church of England as part of their duty as Englishmen, whereas the commoner more likely associates with a church by choice.

The story of church growth in England tells the story of church growth in the 2/3rds world: healthy, growing churches share common features wherever they are to be found.  Health is not the only feature leading to Church growth, as the Prosperity Gospel churches and Mormonism, for example, quickly demonstrate.  Church growth can also be attributed to immigration (hence the growth in black churches) and population growth in London and areas of economic growth (the more people, the more churches).  One should not forget that every country in Europe has a negative population growth for its natural citizens when examining Church statistics: immigration accounts for various factors of growth in such contexts.  More to our point, however, the Church is growing where the Church has life.  Where it is dying in structures and attendance is where it is already dead in spirituality, ministry, and mission.

Some Factors of Health for Growing Churches

In ‘A History of Fresh Expressions and Church Planting in the Church of England,’ George Lings makes some very helpful observations about how this old, traditional denomination has found possible renewal and growth. He identifies six developments prior to 1980 that contributed to this:[6]

1.       The Ecumenical Movement—a sense that we belong to something bigger

2.       The small group movement, rising from the base communities of the 50s in S. America, expanding into cell groups—communal learning/discipleship, lived outside the control of the clergy

3.       The Lay Leadership movement—lay leaders planted churches

4.       The Charismatic movement, 1964 onwards, and the recovery of ‘body ministry’

5.       Liturgical revision in the 60s, moving us beyond individualism

6.       The Church Growth movement, coming from the US through the Bible Society and being Anglicized by Eddie Gibbs

Lings identifies two insights from David Wasdell in 1974/5 that contributed to an understanding of church planting and fresh expressions of the church.[7]  First, a minister can only minister adequately to, at most, 180 persons.  Therefore, development of lay leadership for smaller units within a parish is necessary.  Second, multiplication (the ‘missional church’) rather than addition (the ‘church growth’ paradigm) is the healthy way to pursue church growth.  Lings identifies five marks of a missional churches: they are Trinitarian, relational, incarnational, disciplemaking, and transformational.

The Church in Africa (Broadly Speaking)

Church decline in the West is not as much a feature of growing secularism as we might think.  Churches can and do grow in very secularized countries such as England.  What better explains church growth or decline is the health of the church, characterized by, if we might so summarize points brought out by George Lings: a Kingdom versus institutional perspective, life on life discipleship, development of lay ministers, Spirit-filled churches and gift-exercising laity, a communal rather than individualistic focus in worship, and an emphasis not on maintaining and growing large churches but on mission and multiplication (planting more churches).

The Church in Africa has certain cultural or contextual advantages.  It is not part of a national identity but still stands over against tribal religions: it has a healthy distinction from culture rather than being a feature of culture.[8]  Poorer communities are naturally more relational and holistic.  The culture is far more communal.  The Church has not been beaten down by a materialistic, Enlightenment history; Africa is very aware of spiritual forces and the miraculous.  Worship is not dominated by aesthetics, whether buildings or professional music.  It is in the hearts of the people rather than being a performance by some professional band on a stage.  Large churches are only options in cities with transportation—and Africa has its share of them, with all the problems of large churches in the West.  Africa is probably more susceptible to ‘big man’ leadership and personal power politics than the West.  Yet many, smaller churches that have a great deal of life can be found.  The church is also missional, being the recent product of missions.  This may be less so in more developed parts of Africa, particularly in South Africa.  In East Africa, however, the revival of the 1920s and 1930s is still bearing fruit.  The Anglican Church in Africa numbers about 55 million—out of 80 million worldwide.  It has grown from about 8 million in the 1970s.  The vibrancy of Spirit-filled worship, moreover, can be found in Pentecostal (the major example of ‘new churches’) and Anglican churches alike.

Conclusion: Toward Ministerial Training for the African Church

All this relates to ministerial training in Africa.  How we understand the healthy church will affect what we consider to be good training for ministers—including lay ministers.  Theological education must not simply train according to the academic disciplines: it must also train for the healthy church.  

A theological education that has produced a dying Church in the West is hardly something the Church in Africa should want to develop for itself.  The African Church faces many problems of its own, and yet it has certain characteristics of a healthy Church that must not be undercut by introducing aspects of Western models of ministerial training that favour professionalization of ministry, institutionalization of the Church, cultural distortion of the Gospel, and secularization of the faith.  It must train ministers that engage and develop the community of faith, not scholar-pastors who spend more time on their weekly sermon than around the kitchen tables of parishioners.  It must not become training in Academia but use academic study for the purpose of ministering the faith once for all delivered to the saints by the apostles.  It must not focus on liberation ideologies addressing merely the socio-political concerns on the continent but rather focus on orthodox theology that challenges and undercuts every human institution with the message of the Kingdom of God.

[1] Harriet Sherwood, ‘Church of England Weekly Attendance Falls Below 1m for First Time,’ The Guardian (12 January, 2016); online at: (accessed 30 July, 2016).
[2] Cf. George Conger, ‘Diocese of Rochester Insolvent,’ Anglican Ink (8 July, 2016); online at: (accessed 30 July, 2016).
[3] Cf. Ruth Gledhill, ‘Millions of Pounds Given to England’s Flourishing Christian Cathedrals,’ Christian Today (22 July, 2016); online at: (accessed 30 July, 2016).  The story is about how the English Heritage, which protects cultural buildings in the UK such as castles, has given 14 and a half million pounds to over 30 cathedrals for renovation.  While the story also notes that cathedrals tend to have growing congregations, the relationship with the Heritage Foundation is an acknowledgement that the buildings attract international visitors (some 11 million annually) to the point of contributing 220 million pounds annually to the national economy.  With some 16,000 Church of England churches in England, an average worship service would comprise 47-48 people on Sunday morning.
[4] David Goodhew, ed.  Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the Present (Ashgate Pub., 2012).
[5] Alison Morgan’s review of David Goodhew’s (editor) Church Growth in Britain 1980 to the Present, in Fulcrum (March 30, 2013) (online:; accessed 30 July, 2016).
[6] Ibid.
[7] David Wasdell, ‘Let My People Grow’ (London: UCP, 1974) and ‘Divide and Conquer’ (London: UCP, 1975).  A presentation of his arguments may be found at (accessed 30 July, 2016).  The reader might compare some of the same concerns in church planting stated by the New Anglican Mission Society (see:
[8] This is not to say that there are examples to the contrary, but enculturation motivated not by the concern to make the Gospel understood but to transform the Gospel to support African culture over against colonialism is not a prescription for a healthy Church.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Mission as Theological Education in Africa: 1. The Growth of the Church in Africa and Its Need for Theological Education


In several posts, I intend to explore aspects of mission as theological education in Africa.  I begin here with the simple observation that the Church is growing in Africa and that this is one reason to keep mission activity focussed, among other things, on theological education in the decades to come.

The Growth of the Church in Africa

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, one of the great and growing challenges needing our attention in missions is theological education in Africa.  This is because the Church is growing in Africa more than anywhere else in the world, Africa faces greater academic challenges more than anywhere else in the world, and Africa has a growing responsibility to provide leadership in the Church worldwide.

Perhaps the most well-known statistic on Christianity in the world in our day is that the centre of Christianity has shifted south and into Africa.  This centre (it is located in the region of Timbuktu!) is symbolic, showing where the average number of Christians moves on the world map as those professing the faith wax or wane in different parts of the world.  The shift into Africa shows that Christianity has slowed in the West and has grown elsewhere, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  In Africa, Christianity will grow from 142,609,000 in 1970 to 630,644,000 in 2020; given population growth, this means an increase from 38.7% to 49.3% of the population.  Christians in Northern America, on the other hand, will move from constituting 91.2% of the population to 76.9%.[1]  (Such broad statistics, note, do not include a much needed assessment of what passes as Christian—many ‘Christians’ need evangelization themselves.)  The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell publishes the following trends by region for the growth of Christianity by continent.

Status of Global Christianity, 2015, in the Context of 1900–2050[2]

trend (%)
Europe (including Russia)
Latin America
Northern America

Missiologists use statistics to discussion mission strategies.  We should be cautious about this, since mission work is not a social science but a spiritual calling.  For instance, the fact that the Church is growing in Africa should not lead us to stop evangelizing and church planting on the continent so as to focus on areas of supposed greater need.  Harvesters do not stop harvesting because the planting and growing seasons were successful.  However, this statistic of Christian growth on the continent versus that in the West does raise an important concern for mission strategy: the ever increasing need for theological education in Africa.

The Need for Theological Education

Where the church is growing, there is inevitably a need for teaching at every level—Biblical literacy and instruction in the faith for laity and ministerial training for those entering into various roles in ministry.  Where there is fast growth, there is always the challenge of syncretism and shallow theology.  And where the church is growing, there are special concerns related to those contexts that need to be addressed.  In Africa, these might include theological and ministerial training where there is social and political unrest, the unique politics of certain denominations or fellowships, challenges posed by other religions, and unorthodox teachings from the West or that are home-grown.  Finally, where the Church is growing most in the world is where influential persons are likely to arise, including theologians for the Church.  Thus, not only Africa but also the worldwide Church needs good, well-educated, and orthodox African theologians.


In a word, theological education is mission, and the Church's mission must focus on theological education in Africa.  This is not an exclusive statement, as though other concerns should be ignored.  Yet the needs in Africa for good theological education at every level and for the development of centres for theological education of a high quality are monumental.

[1] See statistics at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (2013) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; online at: (accessed 27 July, 2016).

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Church: 18f. The Pastoral Care of Sinners and False Teachers


The past few weeks have entrenched immoral practices and the teaching of error in whole provinces of the Anglican Communion.  The affirmation of same-sex unions for laity and clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church (and the Church of Scotland, with whom the Church of England has a relationship) and the Anglican Church of Canada have so compromised the Gospel at many levels that the mission of these 'Churches' is no longer viable.  The Church of England may well be on the same trajectory. 

The only way to regain the ministry of pastoral care for sinners is to pursue with all diligence a movement of God's Kingdom and its righteousness outside the Church of Men and Women.  True pastoral care involves the shepherd's crook and the shepherd's rod, not the false unity of a sheep pen for sheep and wolves.  The ministration of divine mercy in pastoral care--particularly in the Church's mission in the West--requires the merciful call to repentance rather than toleration of sin, the merciful practice of judgement for the sake of restoration, and the merciful practice of separation for the sake of unity.

Pastors as Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord

The Church is not a depository for theological and moral diversity but a discipleship community devoted to God: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ (Joshua 24:15).  The voice of love is not toleration of error but obedience to truth: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart' (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  Mercy is not indifference to error but forgiveness of error: ‘Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way’ (Psalm 25:6-8).  Confusion over such basic truths inevitably means pastoral abuse, not care.

The Anglican service for the ordination of priests has the bishop charge the ordinands, who have earlier been reminded that Scripture is the ultimate authority for their ministry, as follows:

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust now to be committed to your charge, about which you have been taught in your preparation for this ministry.  You are to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; you are to teach and to admonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations and to guide them through its confusions, so that they may be saved through Christ for ever.[1]

Indeed, pastoral care is an administration of the Word of God to wounded souls: pastors are messengers of His Word, watchmen of error contradicting His Word, and stewards of the grace taught in His Word.  The Anglican Communion, however, is being torn apart by unworthy shepherds, instructed by false teachers denying the clear teaching in God’s Word, tended to by quacks perpetrating errors contracted from the culture, and abused by leaders perverting the grace of our Lord by licensing immorality in the Church.

Just how might pastors be faithful to their calling in such a dire situation?  Some have suggested unity over against truth, as though unity is some mere social practice for people to pursue instead of a unity in truth.  Others have suggested a pastoral accommodation to minister to all with a form of love that disregards the truth.  Still others have called for an obedience to the truth as the practical expression of godly love, calling for pastors to be messengers of mercy and watchmen against wolves.  Indeed, as shepherds carrying both a staff to guide the sheep and a rod to fend off wolves, pastors are called to exercise both forms of care.

Two Stories of Pastoral Care

Two stories of the Apostle John’s pastoral care circulated in the second century.  Both are aspects of pastoral care.  The first story was told by Clement of Alexandria and demonstrates the pastor’s unwavering ministry of mercy to sinners.[2]  While visiting churches in Asia Minor, John entrusted a particular boy to a bishop’s care.  The bishop agreed and raised the child in the Christian faith.  However, once the boy had matured into a young man, he came under the corrupting influence of other young men who knew nothing of the faith.  He took up a life of self-indulgence and luxury, and, with his new friends, engaged in highway robbery.  The young man rose through the ranks of his gang, outdoing all in violence and cruelty.  The gang recognized him as their leader. 

Some years later, John visited the bishop and asked him to return the ‘deposit’ that he had left with him on the previous visit years earlier.  The bishop eventually realised that John meant the deposit of that boy’s soul, left in the charge of the overseer of the church.  He said that the young man had ‘died,’ that is, that he had turned his back on the Christian faith and entered upon a life of sin.  The apostle John thereupon reprimanded the bishop, called for a horse, and made his way to the gang’s hideout in the hills.  The gang captured John and brought him to their captain.

When the captain saw John, he began to run away—to the astonishment of everyone else.  John, though a very old man, ran after him.  He called after him that he should not be afraid as there was yet hope for his soul, that he, John, had a duty to give an account to Christ for the young man’s life, and that Christ had sent him to extend mercy.  The young man stopped running, flung himself into the apostle’s arms, and wept bitterly in repentance for his sins.  John assured the young man that the Saviour forgave him, and the two returned to the church.  The young man was then encouraged to follow a discipline of repentance, a contrition for sins that included much prayer, frequent fasting, and the subduing his mind by hearing the Scriptures and words of the apostles.

Another story is told of John.  One of his disciples, Polycarp, recalled a story about John’s encounter with a heretical teacher, Cerinthus.  On this occasion, John was in a bathhouse in Ephesus when he learned that the false teacher, a theologian altering orthodox theology by reinterpreting it with the philosophy of his day, was also present.  Rushing out of the bathhouse before bathing, John exclaimed to his own followers, ‘Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3.4).  John thereby taught his followers to have nothing to do with false teaching, to give it no voice, and to expect God’s judgement on all such purveyors of error.

Two Lessons for Pastors

These two stories teach us two important lessons about error in the Church.  The first reminds us to continue to hold out the grace of God to all sinners.  As Jude says, believers are to snatch persons in error as though from the fire (verse 23).  James, too, says,

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (5:19-20).

In so saying, Jude and James affirm Jesus’ teaching of pastoral care through his parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14).  Jesus instructed his disciples to leave the ninety-nine safe sheep and pursue that one, lost sheep on the mountains because God rejoices over the sheep that is found and does not will that any one of His little ones should perish.

Regarding the person disobeying his teaching in the Church, Paul says:

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15   If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

With this, we see both the continuing message of mercy and the need for discipline—both aspects of pastoral care.  Similarly, in the case of the man sleeping with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul calls for a discipline that cares for the whole church while also extending mercy to an unrepentant sinner.  First, Paul reminds the church that they are to have nothing to do with sexually immoral persons in their community:

1 Corinthians 5:9  I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people….

The church’s correct response is not mercy expressed in toleration of immoral relationships but mercy expressed through a pastoral and congregational process of exclusion from the community, recognition of error, repentance from sin, reformation of conduct, and restoration to community.  They are not taking the morally high ground in continuing to accommodate the openly sinful person in their midst who will not change his ways or to tolerate a diverse spectrum of views on sexual morality.  This is not Christian mercy but certain destruction.  The person desperately needs to be excluded from the church to learn a lesson and be warned of what will inevitably be a more serious exclusion when God’s judgement of sinners brings a final verdict, after which there is no further opportunity to repent.  Paul says,

1 Corinthians 5:4-5  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

In this, Paul picks up language from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 20.11: a person who ‘lies with his father’s wife’ is to be ‘put to death.’  Yet Paul does not apply the punishment called for in Leviticus literally, for he transfers the meaning of a negative, literal death penalty to a positive, spiritual purification from sin.  The ‘flesh’ to be destroyed is not the person’s body but the ‘flesh’ in the moral sense of his sinful life.  Only by turning the person over to Satan—that is, putting the person out of the church and into the arena of Satan—will the person appreciate that he is, indeed, no longer part of the church.  Only then is it possible that he will repent and return to the church.  Not turning the person out of the church will only encourage him to continue to live a sinful life that will ultimately lead to God’s condemnation, an exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  It also destroys the church as ‘a little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Corinthians 5:6).  The church is not to pass judgement on unbelievers outside the church but to purge the evil from its own midst (1 Corinthians 5:13).  Far from being a way to unify the church in holiness, toleration of sexual immorality only brings further division as others are encouraged to pursue the same path of destruction (cf. Jude 12).

The second story of the Apostle John’s pastoral care, however, addresses not those who have fallen into error but those who teach error—the false prophets and false teachers leading others into error.  In this case, the Church is hard-pressed to take swift action against falsehood.  As Paul says,

Titus 3:10-11  As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

The case of false teachers is more serious, potentially reaping great destruction in the Church.  James warns, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1).

Paul does not entertain the mistaken notion that such differences call for ‘shared conversations,’ as the Church of England has done over the heretical teachings on sexuality in the past few years.  Regarding the false teachers who misled the Galatian churches, Paul minces no words—this is no time for politically correct tones of civility:

Galatians 1:8-9  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Indeed, he later says, ‘I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!’ (Galatians 5:12).

John, moreover, writes to the church at Thyatira:

Revelation 2:20  I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

Merciful Care: Not Toleration of Sin but Judgement Leading to Repentance

Diversity is not something to celebrate if it is a diversity that deviates from the truth proclaimed by the apostles (i.e., what we would now refer to as the New Testament).  Mercy is not about toleration of error; on the contrary, mercy is expressed in judging and shaming the person in order to lead to hope for repentance and restoration.  Exclusion is an important process for a community to use in order to warn a person bent on error that his or her views or practices are wrong and dangerous: only then is there hope that the person will repent and return to the truth.  Ongoing toleration sends the wrong message that the error is not really that significant—a matter of indifference—and will not be judged by God.  Rather, the church’s judgement of a person persistent in sin is the first step in sincere pastoral care for recalcitrant sinners. As Paul says, ‘have nothing to do with him’ and ‘warn him as a brother’ (2 Thessalonians 3:15). 

This is not only true for the sheep.  It is also true for false shepherds: even with false teachers, Paul holds out hope that discipline will lead to repentance.  He says that he hands over two such false teachers ‘to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme’ (1 Timothy 1:20).

[1] ‘The Ordination of Priests,’ The Alternative Service Book (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 356.
[2] Clement of Alexandria, ‘Who is the rich man that shall be saved?’ (XLII). Clement lived in Egypt towards the end of the 2nd century and was a teacher of the Christian faith.