Thursday, February 23, 2017

Three Lessons From The Life Of Andrew Fuller

In 1805 a minister of an independent church informed Fuller that a lady who had been excluded from his church forbad conduct intended to become a member of Fuller's church. She had been 'dishonest toward her creditors'. Fuller was thankful for the information. When she appeared in the group that was being questioned before baptism, the following conversation took place between Fuller and the lady in question: (F) 'Well, Margaret, you have lived in the world about forty years. How long do you think you have known Christ?' (M) 'A little more than a year.' (F) 'What, no longer?' (M) 'I think not.' (F) 'And you have never professed to know him before that time?' (M) 'Yes, and was a member of an independent church for several years.' (F) 'A member of a church and did not know Christ? How is that?' (M) 'I was brought up to be religious and deceived myself and others into professing to be so.' (F) 'And how came you to leave that church?' (M) 'I was cut off.' (F) 'What, because you were a Baptist?' (M) 'No, because of my bad conduct.' (F) 'Of what, then, had you been guilty?' (M) 'My heart was lifted up with vanity. I got in debt for clothes and other things and then prevaricated and did many things.' (F) 'And it was for these things they cut you off?' (M) 'Yes.' (F) 'And do you think they did right?' (M) 'Yes.' (F) 'And how came you to the knowledge of Christ at last?' (F) 'When I was cut off from the church, I sunk into the deepest despondency, I felt as an outcast from God and man, I wandered about speaking, as it were, to nobody and nobody speaking to me. My burden seemed heavier than l could bear. At that time a passage or two of Scripture came to my mind, and I was led to see that through the cross of Christ there was mercy for the chief of sinners. I wept much, and my sin was very bitter, but I saw there was no reason to despair. For the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. It is from thence I date my conversion.' (F) 'And did the minister in the church of which you were a member know of all this?' (M) 'Yes.' (F) 'Why did you not go and confess it before them and be restored?' (M) 'Partly because I have removed my situation some miles from them, and partly because I felt in my conscience that I was a Baptist.'
Later, Fuller informed the independent minister of the entire matter, said that the church had done well in excluding her, and that the Lord had blessed it to her salvation.

Above is lifted from Tom Nettles’ The Baptists: Key People Involved In Forming A Baptist Identity – Volume One: Beginnings In Britain, pages 274-275 The account deals with an exchange between notable Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller and a woman who had been excommunicated from an independent congregation who was then converted to Christ and was being queried with others by Pastor Fuller as a candidate for believer baptism. There are some thoughts provoked by reading this account of one of the men involved in the instigation of the modern missions movement. I mention but three:
#1  The woman being questioned had formerly professed Christ and was excommunicated from the church where she was a member, but came to realize that she entertained a false hope. It is sad that so few Baptist preachers and congregations in our day recognize the existence of false hopes, though considerable attention was paid to the problem by the Savior and the apostles (Matthew 7.21-23; 1 Corinthians 5.1-4; 2 Peter 2.1; Jude 4). Methinks most congregations have far more with false hopes than they dare to admit.
#2  Andrew Fuller does a commendable job of querying the woman, something that is rarely done these days by pastors who are very quick to assume every baptismal candidate is truly converted and none’s claim is to be doubted. Of course, this is quite unlike godly shepherds of days gone by, of which Charles H. Spurgeon is a wonderful example of a very busy pastor who nevertheless interviewed every baptismal candidate. It is sad that the art of elicitation, so widely practiced by gospel ministers in the past, is for the most part lost by the gospel ministry these days. It is taught in no school that I am aware of. In days gone by only gospel ministers were skilled in the art of elicitation, whereas in our day so many professions are dependent upon skilled elicitation that they dare not attempt to function without it. Included are the professions of lawyers, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, consulting engineers, military debriefers/interrogators, and, law enforcement officers, to name but a few. Alas, pastors not so much anymore. A skilled elicitor recognizes that the person interviewed does not always know what he knows and sometimes does not know what he thinks he knows. Thus, almost every profession dealing with important information acknowledges the importance of a skilled interviewer seeking truth from a willing person. This is a skill every pastor ought to spend a lifetime developing.
#3  Notice the good exchange between the independent church pastor and Andrew Fuller referred to, suggesting two men in the ministry who were examples of pastoral ethics in a day when sheep stealing was less common than it is today. Several thoughts: First, a pastor is known to me to teach a course in pastoral ethics which gives no second thought to stealing sheep from other congregations while decrying the thefts from his flock, and at the same time his course syllabus suggests that he teaches everything about pastoral ethics except the ethics of stealing sheep. Next, the delightful memories of a good pastor friend now with the Lord who first taught me the evil of sheep stealing, which practice I have followed for almost four decades. Ah, the good memories of my friend Jim Johnston and his determination not to treat any gospel minister as an enemy. I miss him so. Nowadays such camaraderie among gospel ministers is rare, with so many in the ministry treating others in the ministry as competitors and threats, more resembling in practice the bunker mentality of evil paranoiac Richard Nixon than the gracious and godly Apostle Paul.

Andrew Fuller was a gracious and godly man who did not react to spiritual opposition by becoming a ministerial isolationist. Rather, he recognized that some men who differed with him were lost, while others who differed with him were ignorant, immature, or unspiritual. Through it all, the indwelling Spirit of God was more influential in determining Fuller’s outlook and disposition than those who from time to time mistreated or resisted him. What a wonderful example for me to follow.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Power Of The Pastor

     I am one of those guys who believes the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible, with no part of God’s Word (rightly understood) in any way conflicting with any other part of God’s Word. When something in the Bible shows my approach to serving as a spiritual leader is incompatible with the revealed truth, I have a holy obligation to alter my approach to leadership so that I might more fully conform to God’s revealed truth. To approach spiritual leadership otherwise is incompatible with spirituality and divergent from Christlikeness.
With this in mind you can imagine my frame of mind when I was discipling some of our men in the Church and arriving at Third John, the little letter of only fourteen verses written by the Apostle John to a Church member named Gaius, in which he seems to commend another Church member named Demetrius, while also offering severe inspired criticism of Diotrephes (thought by many credible commentators to be the Church’s pastor).
May I review a few thoughts off the top of my head that seem to run contrary to the ministerial philosophy of most of the independent Baptist leaders of the 20th century with whom I am familiar? First, the Apostle John writes to a Church member (how could Gaius be spiritual and not be a Church member?) about a problem that Church had with the congregation’s pastor. This is an act most IFBs would claim is beyond the pale as a violation of pastoral ethical standards. Second, the Apostle John criticizes the Church’s pastor for self-promotion and arrogance. How many pastors are guilty of the same approach in their ministries and cannot fathom any other approach to ministry? I know men who think pastors who are not ecclesiastical steamrollers are wimps. Third, this little epistle throws a monkey wrench into the notion that the pastor should be unassailable and beyond any legitimate challenge by godly members, which is, of course, supported by a right understanding of First Timothy 5.19-20. I remember once hearing a pastor claim, while I was attending Bible college, that Matthew 18.15ff was applicable only to Church members but not the pastor (effectively making the pastor a greater authority than the congregation he served). I am afraid it is a widely held practice.
My overall response to such an approach to ministry leadership is that such a philosophy is not Baptistic because such pastors exercise lordship over God’s heritage and deny Church members their soul liberty by seeking to restrict their God-given and Biblical freedom of conscience and action. I see it as no weakness or threat when a Church member seeks to hold me accountable for a perceived wrong and confronts me in private in a respectful and humble manner. Such seems entirely Biblical to me, and the pomposity and domineering spirit that I have observed so often by pastors seem to possibly be an effort to shore up feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. Such as is described in Third John 9-10 is not at all the way the Savior conducted His ministry according to Matthew 12.17-20.
Am I off base on this pastors? I ask pastors particularly because your perspective is different than that of a Church member. Feedback would be welcome.