True Repentance vs Mockery Repentance

From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory Part 1, Chapter 1, page 13,

It is true also, that if you truly repent, you are forgiven: but it is as true, that true repentance is the very conversion of the soul from sin to God, and leaveth not any man in the power of sin. It is not for a man when he hath had all the pleasure that sin will yield him, to wish then that he had not committed it, (which he may do then at an easy rate,) and yet to keep the rest that are still pleasant and profitable to his flesh; like a man that casts away the bottle which he hath drunk empty, but keeps that which is full; or as men sell off their barren kine, and buy mileh ones in their stead: this kind of repentance is a mockery, and not a cure for the soul. If thou have true repentance, it hath so far turned thy heart from sin, that thou wouldst not commit it, if it were to do again, though thou hadst the same temptations as afore against it (because thou hast not the same heart). This is the nature of true repentance; such a repentance indeed as never too late to save; but I am sure it never comes too soon.”

The Mercy of Duties

From Part 1: Introduction of A Christian Directory by Richard Baxter

“And if any read should be discouraged at the number of duties and directions set before him, I entreat him to consider, 1. That it is God, and not I, that imposeth all these duties on you: and who will question his wisdom, goodness, or power to make laws for us and all the world? 2. That every duty and direction is a mercy to you; and therefore should not be matter of grief to you, but of thanks. They are but like the commands of parents to their children, when they bid them eat their meat, and wear their clothes, and go to bed, and eat not poison, and tumble not in the dirt; and cut not your fingers, and take heed of fire and water, etc. To leave out any such law or duty, were but to deprive you of an excellent mercy; you will not cut off or cast away any member of your body, any vein, or sinew, or artery, upon pretence that the number maketh them troublesome, when the diminishing of that number would kill or maim you. A student is not offended that he hath many books in his library; nor a tradesman that he hath store of tools; nor the rich at the number of his farms or flocks. Believe it, reader, if thou bring not a malignant quarrelsome mind, thou wilt find that God hath not burdened, but blessed thee with his holy precepts, and that he hath not appointed thee one unnecessary or unprofitable duty; but only such as tend to thy content, and joy, and happiness.”

A Year With ‘My Baxter’

It’s been two months since my family arrived in central New York to begin a new season of ministry in a new church, new town, new climate, new denomination…you get the idea.

I’ve enjoyed these first several weeks of ministry in an older established church. The exciting life of a church planter is something I sometimes miss, but there is unique beauty to the vintage image of slow living and slow ministry.

While perusing my library about a month ago my eyes became fixed on a volume I bought as a college student, had wanted to read for a long time, but never had the guts to crack open the cover.

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As you can see on the cover, my Presbyterian hero Tim Keller loves this work from the seventeenth century. The Puritans were known for their expertise in soul care, and Richard Baxter in particular may have had the best work ethic in living out his calling as a Pastor.

Baxter’s A Christian Directory is a beast to say the least. 950 pages of small type in double columns is enough to intimidate even a nerdy Presbyterian like me. But, I am drawn to this work. It is Baxter’s summary of ethics, shepherding, and counseling. Some see it as an ancient encyclopedia on how to be a Pastor in a local church.

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My goal is to read and blog through ‘My Baxter’ of the next year. It is a consolation to know that it is meaty and immediately applicable to my vocation as a minister of the gospel. I can easily ignore all the weirdness of Baxter’s views on justification and simply enjoy the goodness of his take on being a physician of the soul.

Enjoy this next year with me and check back every week to see some quotes from Baxter.

God, Gospel, and Kingdom

As the Lord leads our family into a possible new ministry and calling, I’ve been reading and rereading this section from Eugene Peterson and what the Pastor’s calling should be in a local church.

Lord, help me be this kind of Pastor.

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shop-keepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shop-keepers’ concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shop-keeping; religious shop-keeping, to be sure, but shop-keeping all the same… “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.

We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don’t trust ourselves — our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know that we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and that there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to help us: be our pastor, a minister of word and sacrament, in the middle of this world’s life.

Minister with word and sacrament to us in all the different parts and strands of our lives — in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament. One more thing: we are going to ordain you to this ministry and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.

We know that you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know that your emotions are as fickle as ours, and that your mind can play the same tricks on you as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you.

We know that there are going to be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like we are believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know that there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.

There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise, right now, that you won’t give in to what we demand of you then. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of word and sacrament so that you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.

There are a lot of other things to be done in this wrecked world and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don’t know the basic terms with which we are working, the foundational realities with which we are dealing — God, kingdom, gospel — we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives.

Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation.” – Eugene Peterson

Benedict Option vs Presbyterian Option

I am a bit late adding my two cents to the debate surrounding the Benedict Option. While I have not read the book by Rod Dreher, I have kept up with the flurry of tweets, Facebook posts, and articles between Dreher and his detractors. Unfortunately, there has been some amateurish postures by Ph.Ds on both sides of this debate.

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My vocation is that of a Presbyterian minister, so I have an obligation to form an opinion on the issue of how Christians should relate to the culture around them. One might say that my sermons should address that topic almost every week if I want to disciple my flock.

While there is much to be said on this issue, I want to dig into my tradition as a Presbyterian as it relates to Christian ethics. There are two scriptural imperatives which Presbyterians have historically held as binding upon Christians today: Sabbath-keeping and tithing.

I won’t rehearse the arguments from covenant theology and the perpetuity of the moral law, but follow this thought experiment with me: What if the majority of American Christians kept the Sabbath and tithed their income?

On Sabbath keeping, I wonder what would happen to the ‘consumerism’ that millennials often complain about (but don’t actually change their consumer habits). Many restaurants would change their business model and become more like Chick-Fil-A, thus benefiting non-Christian restaurant workers who are forced to work on Sunday. After all, the “Sunday lunch crowd” is populated by mostly church-goers.

In addition, sports leagues like the National Football League would need to come up with a different game plan (no pun intended). The NFL is populated with Christians, so the Sabbath-keeping of these Christians would force the NFL to perhaps play its games on Saturday and make Sunday their ‘day off’ instead of Monday.

This, in turn, would push college football games back to Friday, which would make college football a much less lucrative business. Might this solve some of the controversies and scandals which currently plague college athletics?

Given that consumerism is a blanket critique by young secular people today when it comes to American culture, the church recovering its Sabbath witness might be an attractive option to non-Christians who need a rhythm to balance their work-play-rest rhythm.

Tithing. The sad news about tithing today is that only 5% of Christians tithe their income. This means that less than 10% of Christians actually give 10%! In addition, Christians give less per capita than Christians gave during the Great Depression.

But let’s say the Spirit revived the American church and Christians began to tithe. World hunger, healthcare, foreign missions, church planting, revitalizing smaller churches, Christian schools, etc. would all be affected. Perhaps the reason the welfare state and entitlements has increased is because tithing has decreased.

It isn’t difficult to fathom how the obedient generosity of Christians could shape our contemporary culture. Imagine if this Sunday every Christian tithed their income, our culture (and the world) would be turned upside down.

The Sabbath and the tithe are just two of God’s commands to his people. Just two. Obedience to just these two commands would make the Benedict Option unnecessary. Even if you are in a theological tradition which teaches that these two commands are no longer required for Christians, it’s difficult to dismiss the fruit which would come from obeying these commands.

There are books and conference galore trying to aid the church in navigating our contemporary culture’s secular force. There are parachurch ministries trying to aid the church in jumping on this or that social justice bandwagon. There are ministries trying to help churches think about bi-vocational ministry for their Pastors.

None of these things would be necessary if the church simply obeyed these two commandments of observing the Sabbath and giving the tithe.

Perhaps the Christian faith isn’t complex but rather simple to live out. Perhaps ‘transforming the culture’ isn’t complex but rather simple and covenantal.