Thursday, October 19, 2006

IBC Session 6: Mark Dever on Worship in the Puritans

This is a guest blog post by my favorite pastor in "the Bin," Ian Vaillancourt. Ian was a member of Grace Fellowship Church before being called along with his wife Natalie to pastor the Binbrook Baptist Church.
In fact, I will be preaching at "the Bin" this Sunday morning as they celebrate their 4000th anniversary - okay, their 167th. But that feels like 4000 in comparison to our 6!
I was not able to attend the second day of the IBC, so I asked Ian to type up his notes and share them with us. This is not live-blogging. (It's not dead-blogging either!)

*I hope these rough notes of Dr. Dever’s message will be helpful. I write notes as an aid to listening and internalizing, and when I wrote these, I did not know that Paul would later ask me to type them up for his blog! That, along with the occasional brain freeze (it was a long 15 hour day at the conference on Friday), explains the brevity of the notes. However, I do believe that the meat here is very good, and worth reading. I hope you enjoy! Ian.


- Since the center of Puritan worship is preaching, that is what Dr. Dever will be lecturing on this morning.

- He explained that the term ‘Puritan’ is notoriously difficult to define. For the purposes of today’s lecture ‘Puritan’ will refer to those Reformed English Christians who were concerned to Reform and Purify the Church in the 200 or so years after the Reformation.

- The Puritans were great preachers.

- Many people have heard of the Westminster Assembly, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but not as many have heard of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship. This small document presents the Puritan ideal!

- Dr. Dever explained that this is a lecture, and not a sermon. On Sunday Mornings at Capitol Hill Baptist Church his messages look a lot more like the one he preached last night (on Worship in the New Testament, from Romans 12). In that message he unpacked a particular passage of Scripture and applied it to life.

- This morning’s message will be a lecture. It will not be an expository message, but a historical one. It will be primarily aimed at preachers, although he invites and encourages all non-preachers to listen in, as it is very important for everyone to hear and understand what makes good preaching.

I. Dr. Dever began with nine simple statements on preaching, preachers, and sermons, according to the Puritans. He warned that all note-takers would be frustrated because he did not have time to go slow, or to unpack these points (but he did go slow enough for me to record the meat).

1. Preaching Matters

2. Preachers are not just anyone

3. Regarding sermons and texts: texts are selected by series or special occasions. Puritans typically only interrupted a series for a ‘special message’ (e.g. Christmas)

4. Introductions to sermons must be short and related to the message

5. The structure of the sermon is: text, then truth

6. The content of the sermon: not just examining words, but whole sentences

7. Sermons should be true, biblical and helpful (all three of these characteristics are essential to a sermon).

8. Sermons should be clear

9. Every part of the sermon matters. Arguments must be solid. Illustrations must be effective

II. Controversy In Sermons

- A preacher must pick his fights carefully. He must deal with currently dangerous heresies, but not with every heresy that is around at the time, or that has ever been around. Controversy is important and allowable, only in so far is it is deemed needful. The Puritans were particularly concerned to defend the true biblical gospel against the ever encroaching Romanism in England and Arminianism in New England.

- Dr. Dever pointed out that this really reflects the New Testament way to preach. Note especially the New Testament Epistles – heresies are dealt with, but only the ones threatening the particular community. Controversies are dealt with, but not every controversy is dealt with.

III. Application is essential.

- Doctrine must never be left unapplied. A preacher must argue! William Perkins, in the earliest English Puritan book on Preaching, The Art of Prophesying, reminds preachers to remember the kinds of hearers there are. Again, this is in line with the New Testament model of preaching, especially the epistles. The New Testament authors commonly move from doctrine to application. James 1-2 in particular speaks directly at how dangerous unapplied truth is.

- Lives will be unaffected by truths unapplied!

- The Puritans believed that such application should be practical. Richard Sibbes, for example is always very practical in his sermons (Dr. Dever did his PhD at Cambridge in Richard Sibbes).

a. Puritan application deals with guilt, grace, and gratitude

- This application is not moralism – works based salvation

b. In application, deal with sin fully

- For example, notice Jonathan Edwards’ clarity on the sin of selfishness in Charity and Its Fruits.

- Notice that this is again, the New Testament way of preaching. For example, Romans 1-3 gives glory to God by exposing sin.

- Dr. Dever told a story about a woman who had been attending Capitol Hill Baptist, who was powerfully effected by the Word preached. Her entire world view had been transformed. On one occasion she was in tears as she realized this! He then exhorted the preachers not to forget the powerful infusion of reality that preaching is to those who are lost!

c. In application, comfort fully

- In a time of depression caused by over-working in the ministry, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was grateful to Richard Sibbes for providing salve for his soul. Particularly The Bruised Reed was a blessing to him.

- Notice that the New Testament books of Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation were written specifically as encouragement for afflicted Christians

d. Sermons should cause self-examination

- For example, Paul is calling for serious self-examination in 1 Corinthians 11, etc.

e. Preach helpful doctrines

- One can’t preach every doctrine from every text. Choose the particular doctrine in the text that will be most helpful for the people. The truths we preach are timeless, but must be presented in the barb of our times.

Pastoral Visitation (Part III) - What You Aim For

“We must labour to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians.” – Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 90.

The presupposition behind pastoral visitation is that it is one of your duties as an undershepherd of Christ's flock to know His sheep. A man cannot care for sheep he never sees.

When I pastored in Northern Ontario I was privileged to have an old shepherd in my church. He was old. And he was a real shepherd - known throughout that area as having the tastiest sheep and best wool! Anyway, when I used to visit Louis, I would inevitably walk out to the barn or field with him. It did not matter how slowly I moved or how gently I spoke - those dumb sheep were spooked at the sight and sound of me.

But for Louis! Well, it was love from the moment their doleful eyes fell on him. Here is the man who knows us! The one who feeds us! The one who got up night after night to feed me on my bottle! The one who cares for my wounds! The one who protects me from my enemies! The one who is going to slaughter me for money!

Okay, that last one doesn't really work, does it!?!

Even though the analogy, like all human analogies, falls flat at some point, you can still see the grain of truth. Sheep need care. And what is our calling as pastors if it is not to know our sheep so well that we may apply whatever medicine, teaching, rebuke, comfort, or protection that they need? Yes, we are to preach and teach so that the Body is built up to fulfill the work of the ministry - but I stand with Baxter (and Paul, I think) when I say that foundational to our ability to teach is our faithfulness to know and love the sheep.

Baxter understood that merely mounting the pulpit once a week then disappearing into the study for the rest would not bring about much change in this world. He considered it a part of the pastoral duty not only to study the Word of God, but to study men for the purpose of determining how best to convince them of the Truth. "We must study how to convince and get within men, and how to bring each truth to the quick..." (145)

Once we have done this, says Baxter, we must rush to the battle. "Satan will not be charmed out of his possession: we must lay siege to the souls of sinners, which are his garrison, and find out where his chief strength lieth, and lay the battery of God's ordinance against it, and ply it close, till a breach is made; and then suffer them not by their shifts to repair it again" (149).

Baxter practiced what he preached. There were few, if any, converts in Kidderminster when Baxter arrived there in 1641 and few, if any, unconverted in the town of 2000 when he left. His ministry was held together by the backbone of a personal visitation model similar to that we are attempting to describe here. He knew his sheep!

Of course, you will find some sheep easier to know than others. Didn't Paul have to egg on the Corinthians to "open wide" to him as he had opened his life to them? Sin, personality, fears, poor time management, relational immaturity and a host of other things (and combinations thereof!) may conspire against you. But don't let what is wrong keep you from doing what is right! Get to know your sheep - spiritually.

One last thing. If there were ever a reason for long and faithful ministries in one location with one of group of people, this is it. You cannot get to know your sheep in 2.6 years. That's not enough time for them to really sin against you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hope Has Come

Hope Has Come

My friends at Sovereign Grace Ministries are offering a free download off their soon to be released Christmas CD! This one was written by Stephen Altrogge, son of my favorite still-living songwriter, Pastor Mark Altrogge.

Pastoral Visitation (Part II) - Scheduling the Meetings

(Post one is here.)

For the longest time, the greatest hinderance to making "elder visits" was finding a time to do it. My co-elder and I had the best of intentions, but we could only seem to muster a visit here and a visit there kind-of-thing.

At one of our FRPS meetings, a brother shared how his pastor organized these visits. It was quite simple - but revolutionary to me! We adapted his model to this:

1. We elders meet and plan a block of time where we will perform elder visits with members.
- we try to put this in a not-so-busy period (i.e. not during December and the Christmas rush!)
- and this "block of time" mentality means we know we will be out a lot of nights for several weeks, but not for an endless period of time... that really helps when you have small kids at home and it helps us to prepare for that time in prayer

2. We determine the specific nights or days (right down to the start and end times) of when we will be able to meet.

3. We either:
a) Carry around a sign-up sheet for members to sign up for one of these specific times, or
b) Have one of us call members and ask if they are available for any of these specific times.
- lately it has been the second option as we are trying to systematically get around to all of our members

4. We meet with the members!

The advantages to this type of organized visitation are many, some of which I have already listed. Other advantages include:

1. Your members know that you are "making the rounds" and that you will eventually get to them.

2. Members struggling with particular issues know they can request a meeting time and be offered a specific date and time.

3. You get to spend time with "non-issue people" - meaning those foundational folks that never squeak or swerve, are at every service, and would never think of adding to your duties by asking for a visit! Those folks still need close shepherding and this method makes a way for you to get with them in their homes one-on-one.

4. Your members see some of your shepherding and this can be very comforting to them, even if they are not the ones being visited this round.

There are more benefits, but I will leave off there.

Next time I will try to post on what we actually do in a visit.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pastoral Visitation - Part I

Just got back from our first "elder visit" of this fall schedule. What a great night, spent in meaningful and encouraging conversation with a young couple in our church.

I used to pray like mad that I would be able to visit like this, but it always seemed so difficult to make it happen. Now, I cannot imagine pastoral ministry without them.

I think I will blog more in the coming days on how we go about doing these visits. Tonight, I just wanted to whet the appetite of all you pastors out there! This is a good and necessary thing!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I Love Mats!

Mats with teammate Bryan McCabe

I am not the Leafs fan I once was - I decided to get a life! But I sure enjoyed watching my man Mats Sundin get his 500th career NHL goal to beat the Calgary Flames in overtime last night.
Who cares about the rest of the game!?
I know he hasn't brought Lord Stanley to Toronto (yet), but 500 goals in 15 seasons isn't so bad. Especially on the Leafs!
And a hat trick to boot!!

Walter Says You Really Ought to Go to Church....

Grace Fellowship Church: Walter on Going to Church:

Here is some timely advice for this Sunday!

"Now, I know you city-folk get to hockey games all the time, but for me, this was a rare occurrence. So, I didn't want to miss a thing! It was a great game that ended up tied with Montreal with 5 minutes to play! But wouldn't you know that right around that time, those two large coffees, one pop and a hot chocolate all got to impressing on me the need to take a trip to the little boy's room. Finally, I could take it no longer and dashed down the aisle and out the door and back again as fast as my old legs would carry me... only to hear a giant cheer as I rounded the corner to re-enter the rink! I had missed it! The winning goal! Montreal - losers again! Just like me!

Now, it seems to me that is the thing that nearly almost happens on the Sunday you miss gathering with your fellow saints. The Sunday God chooses to come down, is the one Sunday you pick to convene a meeting with Pastor Pillow and Deacon Sheets! But the way to never miss the blessing is to always attend the fellowship.

You might think of church meetings like a series of meals. Mrs. Walter is more than a fine cook, but every once in a while she tips the cow and raises the roof. Some new recipe or even an old recipe comes together in such a way and at such a time that we are faced with a banquet we'll not soon forget. But if you skip dinner that noon to fix the spindle on your hay rake you miss the meal where your wife makes Martha Stewart look like a short-order cook. You've got to be there! Same with church."