You asked me last week about a fun and exciting (can you sense my sarcasm) ecclesiology issue: church governance structures. While every model has some biblical merit, there is no perfect solution. The problem with every church governance structure is that it’s always comprised of men, and we, of course, are inherently sinful.
So, I wanted to first lay out the general descriptions of each church governance structure with the biblical texts often used in support of them. Then, consider each structure in light of some biblical mandates for the church and realities of leadership to help explain how I formed my own opinion about what is both most biblical and most practical.
Think of possible church government models and structures as points along a spectrum. On one end you have consolidated authority in the hand of a pastor (often referred to as the “Moses” model). On the other end would be diffused, shared leadership where a church leader (not necessarily a pastor) has essentially no real authority at all (such as congregational models or those in the Churches of Christ). In between the two, you have a variety of models (elder-led, deacons, advisory boards, etc). I’ll lay out each structure and then talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each below.
In general, though, you have four models of church government: Episcopal, Mono-Episcopal (Moses), Presbyterian, and Congregational. The Alliance is some mix of Presbyterian and Episcopal polity.
An Episcopal church structure is a more hierarchical structure where Bishops (or Superintendents) play a prominent role. Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans fit pretty well into this category. Bishops appoint pastors to serve in churches and can decide the length of their service there. Bishops have a great deal of authority and congregations and their leadership are basically “along for the ride”. An Episcopal polity sees Scriptures like Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 5 as the New Testament basis for their structure, and would go back to Moses in Deuteronomy as Old Testament evidence. When Paul instructs Titus and Timothy to appoint elders in the church, he is seen as functioning as a Bishop: appointing Titus and Timothy to lead their local congregation.
Mono-Episcopal (often referred to as “The Moses Model”) would be what many non-denominational churches are nowadays. Essentially, one man begins a work and functions as its “Bishop”, or overseer. In contrast to the Episcopal polity (which has a Council of Bishops), this Mono-Episcopal leader has no colleagues and exercises pretty much unilateral oversight of the church. The leader could appoint elders in the church, or have an advisory board or something else, but basically it’s their work to lead because God called them, gave them a burden for the work, and raised them up for it. He may bring in others to help with the work, but the burden of leadership (and, thus, the decision-making authority) rests with them. Moses is obviously cited as the basis for this model of leadership. He was selected and appointed by God to lead His people (Exodus 3) and served as the mediator between God and man, declaring to them the Word of the Lord (Deuteronomy 5). Just as Moses had judges to help him in his work (Exodus 18), so these men have those to help them in their work (basically elders and deacons as outlined in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 6). However, like Moses, they have been uniquely called by God to lead.
A Presbyterian church structure is one which places a heavier emphasis on the role of local church elders. Presbyterian churches (surprise!) and many identifying as “Reformed” fit pretty neatly into this category. Basically, the emphasis of leadership is on a group of locally elected (as opposed to appointed) elders (in contrast to a Bishop, pastor, or congregation). A Presbyterian polity sees the role of elders as described in Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 5 as being carried out by a group of locally elected men. Depending on the church or denomination, these elders can serve as part of a larger group of elders (a Synod, for example). But, this is not seen as a higher or greater level of authority, but as delegated authority from the local body of elders. Pastors are one of the elders but do not hold any more weight, influence, or leadership than the rest of the group. Essentially they are “SME’s” in theology, preaching, or religion but don’t bear the burden of local church leadership.
A Congregational church structure is one which places the local church and its unique polity as the higher form of authority. There are, generally speaking, no conventions, Synods, districts, or other broder bodies which have any authority or influence over the local church. Baptists and Churches of Christ of course are quintessential examples of Congregational churches. They may still have pastors, elders, and/or deacons…but they may not. Most Baptist churches would have locally elected elders and/or deacons and church pastors according to their views of Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 5. Churches of Christ, though, may not have a pastor at all and may be led entirely by locally elected elders and deacons based on their interpretation of those same passages. Specifics of church composition and polity (like everything else) is left up to each local congregation.
So, while each of these have some basis in Scripture, it’s not simply a matter of saying, “for the Bible tells me so” when it comes to church government structures. They each look at the same Scriptures and have different interpretations of what that looks like. There’s another really important aspect of church governance that, in my opinion, I would put at least on par with the Scriptures listed above. To me, the more important question is this: What church government structure best enables the church to live out the mission of God in the world? To answer this question, there are several important factors to consider.
I believe in the biblical role and purpose of ordination. Ordination is a biblical practice that goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Interestingly, it always involves three things: the laying on of hands, an acknowledgement of God’s calling, and the setting apart for some exercise of spiritual leadership. Moses famously laid hands on Joshua (Numbers 27 and Deuteronomy 39) to set him apart as the next spiritual leader of Israel. This is an indication not of Moses selecting Joshua, but of Moses’ acknowledgement that God had selected Joshua. We see this same pattern in the New Testament, too. In Acts 13, God tells the church to “set apart” Barnabas and Paul. The Greek there indicates that God has called them for a separate and distinct purpose than others. Much like Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament, we then see Paul and Barnabas laying hands on others for the same reasons. In Acts 14:23, elders were “ordained” for the churches. This is a different Greek word than in the previous chapter and it means “to take particular charge of a duty, either by appointment or election”. So, while Barnabas and Paul were “set apart” by God for a calling, the elders in Acts 14 seem to be appointed by Paul and Barnabas to carry out their functions as elders. This is the same word used for Titus’s ordination in 2 Corinthians 8:19. Titus being instructed to appoint elders in Titus 1 also seems to carry the same connotation as Acts 14 (that is, being elected or appointed to carry out the functions of an office).
So, I believe in the biblical practice of ordination. I believe God calls and sets apart certain people for spiritual leadership. This calling is then affirmed by other men of God with the laying on of hands. So, I believe there is an important place for biblical leadership within the church.
The mission of God for the church demands leadership. In addition, I also see where leadership is needed/demanded within the church for the mission that God has given the church. God’s mission for the church is to GO! We are to go into all the world as ambassadors for Christ and His Kingdom and make disciples (Matthew 28; 2 Corinthians 5:20). However, you and I both know that in our humanity we are inherently selfish and sinful (Jeremiah 17:9) and in constant need of both rescue from sin (Romans 7:24) but also redirection toward the heart and mission of God (Romans 12:1-2; Psalm 51).
In theology, we call it “sin”...that which tends to constantly draw us away from God and from which God constantly redeems us. However, this principle is not limited to just theology. We find it at work all around us everyday. In science, it’s called “entropy”. The idea is that things tend toward disorder and chaos. In parenting, it’s called “Clean up your room…again!”. In the military it’s called “PMCS” because vehicles and equipment break down without constant interruption by people. In project management it’s called “scope creep”, because projects tend to get away from their original purpose and design. With people it’s called “aging”. In the business world it’s called “management”. In education, it’s called “administration”. You get my point!
What I’m saying is that people tend toward contentment with the status quo and not toward fulfillment of God’s heart and mission. Thus, the very mission of God for the church demands leadership. So, I believe that God calls and sets apart certain people, gives them a calling, burden and capacity for leadership, and places them within the Church according to His good will and pleasure. So, church systems that do not have a place for spiritual leadership will inevitably tend toward consensus around the status quo, entropy, and bear increasingly little fruit.
Spiritual leadership is modeled throughout Scripture. I would suggest that you see plenty of examples in Scripture of spiritual leadership, both by individuals and groups (such as elders). In Acts 15, for example, you see a group of apostles and elders (the Council of Jerusalem) coming together to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and deciding the answer to a tough, divisive spiritual question. You also see elders as those who teach the church (1 Timothy 3), both encouraging those who believe and refuting those who oppose (Titus 1). You also see very strong leadership, though, by individuals.
Check out the language in 1 Corinthians 4:18-21 Paul used to address the Corinthian church: “Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” While his heart is clearly pastoral - and he had no doubt shepherded them lovingly, patiently, and graciously - He obviously has understood and recognized leadership over this church family.
Ephesians 4, while affirming that all Christians are called to the work of ministry, notes that some are called to be leaders of God’s people. Some have been called to be apostles, pastors, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Couple these types of passages with those above regarding individual ordination and what that means, and I don’t think you can just dismiss some level of individual leadership within churches.
How does this all fit together? While Christ is the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), He has called some to lead. Those whom He calls, we recognize through ordination (which is an intentionally slow and deliberate process). When those who have been called and affirmed go out, they are ideally supported by local elders who help them lead the church. However, I can see in Scripture where those who have been “set apart” have a greater burden for leadership. This, I believe, is affirmed by churches when they call pastors to serve and lead them. So, I believe some deference ought to be given to their voice and latitude for their leadership.
However, men are also inherently sinful and, left unchecked and without accountability, can easily become toxic and very un-Christlike in their leadership (just consider the Mars Hill podcast we’ve been listening to). These men need to lead as part of a group for this reason, but also considering all that the New Testament has to say about elders shepherding together as a group. So, the best I can figure is this:
Episcopal polity understands the importance of leadership but moves the center of gravity too much toward the bishop and not enough toward the local church pastor and elders. Pastors and local elders do not have much room for exercising leadership in this framework.
Mono-Episcopal polity is the most dangerous to me because it offers the fewest “checks and balances” for a pastor while also allowing the least for the exercise of various gifts. With the right man, this can be a great structure, but with the wrong man it can be catastrophic.
Presbyterian polity seems to be the closest thing to allowing the church to be what Scripture affirms it to be. It allows for real leadership at the local level while also holding churches accountable to a larger body, which they often need for good reasons (encouragement and support) and bad reasons (correction and discipline) alike.
Congregational polity understands the importance of local leadership, but lacks in two important areas. It doesn’t necessarily allow a pastor (if he even exists) to exercise leadership when it is necessary, and it also doesn’t have any input mechanisms for voices outside the immediate church (like encouragement, support, correction, and discipline).
There is no perfect system. I have seen both bad leaders hold a church back or bring it down and good leaders be fleeced and crippled by the inability to actually exercise leadership. Mark Driscoll serving as a Mono-Episcopal leader can be devastating to a church. But, I have also seen a church that desperately needed leadership (like a local, congregational Baptist church) run a good man out of town because they refused to follow Him, even though it is exactly what they needed. At the end of the day, the church is the Lord’s and we lead it the best we can, with who we have, where we are.
I do firmly believe, though, that churches need leaders. Perhaps I’m biased because I am a pastor and colored by my experiences, but I believe that there is a place for pastoral leadership that is somewhat distinct from a group of totally co-equal elders. Here’s a real example for you: I found an old letter I wrote to my elders in Whiteville expressing my frustration about this. They desperately needed to make some changes, and I was trying to lead them through those changes the best I could, but I was meeting very stiff resistance. This had been true of previous pastors at this church as well, so I knew it wasn’t personal. It was deeper and more systemic than that. This church needed leadership, but the system (and people) in place weren’t allowing for it. Understand that this was me communicating my feelings to these men about our church at that time and place. Don’t read this as some doctrinal statement, but rather expressing the tensions of trying to lead within that framework. A portion of that letter reads like this:
There is an unhealthy view of the pastor that stands at odds with the interpretation and practice of the C&MA. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6)
a. The pastor is a “temp worker”.
i. This comment came from one of our elders in regards to his own view of the pastor. This comment is eye-opening and concerning in and of itself. What is of even greater concern is that not a single elder challenged that viewpoint. It is no wonder that pastors have been met with stiff resistance from our church leadership (which has been largely unchanged over several pastors) if the pastors are not viewed as leaders at all.
b. The pastor is simply “one of us”.
i. When asked multiple times about the relationship between the pastor and lay leadership, this has consistently been the answer. The pastor is an elder whose voice is no louder or more authoritative than any other. Essentially, the voice of the pastor is 20% (or less) of a group. This would be an uphill battle in and of itself, but it is near insurmountable when the majority of voices are either related or have deep bonds of friendship and partnership forged over a longer period of time than the pastor has been alive.
c. The primary, and sometimes only, roles of the pastor are to preach on Sunday mornings, visit people in the hospital, and chair church meetings.
i. This view allows no room for spiritual or organizational leadership. When biblical, pastoral leadership is exercised, it seems to be viewed as the pastor “exceeding his role” and is met with resistance. Positive change, of course, then becomes only a vain and fleeting hope.
I decided to include that just to give you some “real-world” context to the tensions within church polity structures. Wherever you go, and however you serve, there will be challenges. The system won’t be perfect. But, you serve faithfully and exercise leadership with love and humility, trusting in the sovereignty of God.
I hope some of this helped.
2021 Annual Report
January 30, 2022
THE HIGHLIGHTS (for those who prefer the “condensed version” of this report):
The theme of this annual report is: “shift”. In line with that theme, I’ve broken it down into two sections: Discerning a shift (2021) and Preparing for shift (2022). The 2021 section looks at what God has done this past year. The 2022 section is largely “vision casting” and forecasting where we believe God is leading us this next year.
2021: DISCERNING A SHIFT
The idea of churches “shifting” is nothing new since March 2020. Like most other churches, we spent much of 2020 in triage and prayer. By 2021, we were sensing the leading of God’s Spirit in moving us toward something different than before. While we didn’t know what that was, the elders prayed together about it regularly. This past February, we got the first clue of what part of this shift might look like. Eddie DeJesus, the Church Multiplication DIrector for the Alliance South Central, put me in touch with David Washington.
The Arrival of the Washington’s
God providentially used Eddie to connect David and I in February. David was a local Baytown boy who felt called to church planting. As the elders (and later Admin Committee) prayed about this new possibility, I talked with Eddie about what this would mean for ABC. David coming as a future church planter would make us a “Greenhouse” church (more on this in the next section) and he would stay for a 2-3 year period before launching and planting his own church (with support from ABC). So, much prayer and discernment took place prior to their arrival in August. David has since been serving on staff (part-time) as our Outreach Pastor. David & Toya have now been here for 6 months and hit the ground running. I have been meeting with him every Sunday for one hour and he has become a valuable part of our staff, admin team, and elder team.
Stewardship of funds
God has graciously provided an abundance of funds for us over the course of the last few years. We are incredibly healthy and have a reserve set aside of 5-6 months of operating expenses. At one point we had even more than that, so we capped it at 6 months and set aside the “abundance” to use for ministry.
We were praying together about how to use these funds creatively. I had talked with the elders about bringing in a missionary couple to serve here for a short time before we send them out. In the midst of those conversations and prayers, God connected us with David Washington! We would be able to provide him with a small stipend from our abundance ($30,000 over two years, with $15,000 coming from us and $15,000 coming from the Alliance). Like my hypothetical “missionary couple”, David & Toya would be here for a season of 2-3 years before we launch them as church planters. The next section contains more information about our ongoing relationship and partnership with David and our continued stewardship of funds.
Launching Community Groups
As part of our “re-Launch” in September, we launched two Community Groups. Our Outreach Pastor, David Washington, helped provide the vision and structure for this ministry. Bill Allen & Wally Whitley led one group while David Washington & Dave Truncale led the other. We are meeting in homes over a meal, praying for one another and our community, and using the sermon as our discussion guide. While our initial goal was just to get them started and launched, our longer-term goal is to use these groups as the vehicles for outreach and benevolence. There will be more on our vision and plans for this in the following section.
2022: PREPARING FOR SHIFT
So, while in 2021 we sensed God shifting ABCBaytown from what we had been to something different, I believe this year (2022) is a year of God preparing us for this shift. He has done great things and simply asks that we follow Him in faith and obedience. This “vision casting” below is my attempt to trust and follow Him in this new area that He is so clearly leading. I’m inviting you to join me in this exciting new season.
In the last quarter of 2021, ABC was officially designated a “Greenhouse” church by the Alliance. This means that we sense God calling to be (and are now) a “church-planting church”. This is not just a designation on paper but one which influences even our mission and focus as a church. So, what does this mean for us?
We are partnering with David for a period of 2-3 years before he (with our guidance and support) plants a new Alliance church. We are providing him with a platform for mentorship and growth. Here, he has the opportunity to preach, lead in ministry efforts, join the admin and elder meetings, build a network of support, and receive prayer and guidance from the elders.
Part of this relationship and partnership includes an increasing focus on planting a new church. Accordingly, David and the elders will be shifting their focus to helping discern God’s heart and will for him and his ministry and helping him build a network of support and partnership. He will be simultaneously serving here while preparing to leave in the next 2-3 years. As a Greenhouse church, we sense this is God’s leading for us now: partnering with David and providing him a place to develop, experiment, minister, seek God, and grow his own network (which includes ABCBaytown) as he prepares to plant a new work and reach the harvest of Baytown, TX.
These shifts are not just organizational, but personal. They will require some level of shifting for each of us. For me, as part of this shift, I hear God telling me to shift the focus of my sermons for 2022. Rather than strictly preaching expositorily through a book of Scripture (which has been my practice for the past 16 years), I will be preaching a handful of topical sermon series. These will be aimed at helping us, all together, understand the biblical call to relational outreach and discipleship and move as one body into God’s will for us.
Please understand that this is challenging for me, but I am convinced it is God’s will for us in 2022. I’d appreciate your prayers. I am planning to preach a series on the Body of Christ and your role in it, spiritual gifts (followed by a spiritual gifts assessment for everyone), and two longer series on The Kingdom of God and the New Testament church. I am praying that these sermons help us hear what God is doing here (calling us to be a church-planting church) and how we are shifting to move with Him (reaching our community through our relationships).
Community Groups are a central part and emphasis of this shift. As we move into trying to impact our community and plant a new work here, I really want to use our Community Groups as the channel for both outreach & discipleship. As David continues to spearhead this effort, I am praying that we see new leaders brought up and new groups started this year. We have planned three sessions for training new community group leaders in our 2022 calendar. I am trusting and believing for God to stir some of us who are here to lead community groups and we grow, and to bring along others who are not yet a part of our family.
I am also praying that we see powerful Kingdom impact through our serving together and reaching to our community. I am praying that we grow not in numbers only (or even primarily), but in impact to our neighbors…and in desire and burden to reach our neighbors and community. I would love nothing more than to see our community groups double in number, only to take much of what we have gained and use these families to partner with David in his new plant. We are trusting and believing God for amazing fruit and abundant harvest!
I specifically want to resource (and as heavily as possible) our community groups to accomplish ministry. We are trusting the Holy Spirit to stir creativity through these groups and we want to use the resources (funds, building, people, etc.) God has given us to bring people into contact with Jesus.
Stewardship of Funds
At the end of last year, we had a joint meeting with the elders and admin team. We talked at length about our “abundance” that God has given us and how we can steward it more faithfully and impactfully. As a result, we have prayerfully, strategically, and intentionally set aside a portion of our excess reserves to be ready to minister in ways that we feel God is calling us. Rather than having a centralized committee decide how to use this money, I want to see these funds used for and by community groups. The idea is that community groups increasingly become the vehicle through which we accomplish relational impact. We have three outreach opportunities planned for the year, but are hoping for more as God burdens our hearts. Here is how it works:
Our community groups pray together about how to reach the neighborhoods and community where we live. Rather than through church-wide programs, we are hoping to accomplish this through the efforts of our community groups specifically. Community groups communicate their ministry ideas through the community group leader, who then communicates it to the admin committee. The admin committee decides and approves the funding for the idea. Once supported and empowered, our Community Groups can then carry out outreach and benevolence, seeing and realizing Kingdom impact in our community.
I am praying that through this vehicle of supported and empowered community groups, ABC can begin to see generational impact and harvest here in Baytown.
God is clearly moving in our midst, and moving in a specific direction. He is calling us to partner with David to reach the people in our city. He has provided for us, sent David to us, and opened the door to a mighty harvest. As we seek to shift to accomplish His will, I am calling each of us to consider how we can shift. Who is God calling me to reach this year? How can my community group make an impact? What can we do to be the hands and feet of Jesus together?
As the Holy Spirit speaks to each of us, I firmly believe that we are positioned for Kingdom impact. Let’s trust and obey together in 2022 and be in awe of what God does.
with you for His glory,
Lead Pastor, ABCBaytown
11 December 2021
This past Sunday at church you asked me a great question! If questions were boxers, yours would be the heavyweight champion of the world. The question had to do with the nature of sin as an individual barrier to a relationship with God. Does our sin keep us from God? Can a Holy God not co-exist with sin? What does this look like and what’s the right answer? You were specifically looking for Scripture (which I commend you for!), so I tried to include plenty of it.
I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to think about and formulate an answer for you. Just remember...you asked me. So, this is my approach to laying out for you my own framework for thinking about and attempting to answer such immense theological questions. If any of it is helpful, Glory to God! If not, then I take all the blame.
The best questions don’t have black and white answers. They require more thought and care than a quick response. Almost all great theology questions (like these) fit well into this category. My approach to these kinds of questions - since they are so humongous and their actions carry such weighty consequences - is to break one huge question down into multiple smaller (though still really big) questions. Then, the conclusions I reach from answering the smaller, related questions will help inform my answer to the huge question. So, my thought process (and my smaller questions) would look something like this:
What does it mean that God is Holy?
The only reason your question is a question is because God is, by nature, holy (Leviticus 19:2). This is such a huge and foreign concept to us that it is hard to grasp. I’ve always liked how A.W. Tozer talked about our difficulty in even having a starting point to understand the holiness of God. He said:
“Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of.
God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable… Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.”
The easiest way for me to understand holiness is to say that God is completely and totally righteous, pure, and true. I believe it to be God’s central attribute: as the one characteristic through which all of His other attributes flow. In other words, because God is holy, He is just; because God is holy, He is righteous; because God is holy, He is merciful. I don’t think it’s inconsequential that His holiness is His only personal attribute reiterated three consecutive times in Scripture. Both times were recorded by men who God gave a vision into Heaven and they saw heavenly creatures surrounding the throne of God. In John’s vision of Heaven in Revelation 4, He sees these creatures around the throne proclaiming day and night, “Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord Almighty!”. Isaiah saw the same scene in His vision (Isaiah 6:3). So, understanding God’s holiness (or as best we can) is essential to knowing Him. Equally important is understanding man’s sinfulness.
What is sin? What does it mean to be inherently sinful? Just how wretched is sin?
We really can’t understand the wretchedness of - and total depravity caused by - sin until we start to grasp the holiness of God. In light of His perfect standard, we see ourselves for what we really are. Totally and completely depraved by sin and completely dependent on God to reach down to us and redeem us from our own depravity. The most famous verse about our own sinfulness comes from Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” There just isn’t any escaping our own sinfulness. But, what does that mean? How wretched is sin? Is it really that bad?
John MacArthur summarized how Scripture talks about sin like this:
“Sin is abominable to God-He hates it (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31). Sin is contrary to His nature (Isaiah 6:3; 1 John 1:5). It stains the soul and degrades humanity's nobility. Scripture calls sin "filthiness" (Proverbs 30:12; Ezekiel 24:13; James 1:21) and likens it to a putrefying corpse-sinners are the tombs that contain stench and foulness (Matthew 23:27). The ultimate penalty-death-is the consequence of sin (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:3). The human race is in bad shape.”
One of my favorite quotes about sin (and that in relationship to God) comes from R.C. Sproul. He wrote poignantly that:
“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”
We are always tempted to justify why our sinfulness really isn’t that bad. We think we are much closer to “cleanliness” or “righteousness” than we really are. If we operate on that assumption, it doesn’t seem like a great distance between God and man…and it minimizes the seriousness of your question. But Paul, considering his own sinful nature (even well after he began walking with Christ), said that he inhabits a body of death, where evil is right there with him every step of the way, and needs rescue and deliverance from his own wretched, sinful self (Romans 7:24-25). So, now we start to get to the crux of your question with this next question:
How do the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man relate to one another?
This is really the heart of what you asked. Scripture affirms that God is eternally holy and also affirms that man is hopelessly sinful. This paradigm is where your question stems from. How do we reconcile these two truths? J.I. Packer wrote a famous book titled, “Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God”. In it, he talks about Scriptural paradoxes that he calls “antimony”. He says that, “an antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both understandable.” The Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man are the perfect example of an “antimony”. Here’s my attempt to help unpack this “antimonious” relationship.
A holy God and a sinful world
In addition to being holy, Scripture affirms that He also knows everything (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20). Since this is true, it also means that He knows of the “unholiness” (sin) present in the world and people. Ironically, the famous verse in Habakkuk (1:13) that people cite as God not being able to look upon sin is immediately followed by his acknowledgement that He does, in fact, see it. Altogether, it reads like this: “ Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” How can God simultaneously not tolerate sin and tolerate sin? This verse is best understood (for me) as Habakkuk’s “out-loud wrestlings” with God. Much like many, many of David’s Psalms or the sections of dialogue at the end of Job between Job and God. As a verbal processor, I fully understand!
So, you have to be careful when reading certain passages (like those in Job or Habakkuk) and seeing them as prescriptive theology describing who God is and who we are. These passages are not “theology” in the same sense as much of Paul’s writings (like the passage in Romans 7). And I certainly don’t think we can say that a holy God is “unaware” of sin or doesn’t see it just because He is holy.
A holy God and sinful man
We know of God’s holy will for all people: that they would be reconciled to Him (Isaiah 45:22; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). And yet, we also know that our sin does keep us from knowing and experiencing God personally and leads to death rather than life (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
What’s one example in Scripture of how our sin separates us from God? I would suggest that the way Scripture deals with prayer from unrepentant sinners shows one consequence of sin and its separating effects on our relationship with God. Scripture is clear that God does not listen to all prayers. It says that He does not listen to the prayers of those who: remain in sin (John 9:31), forsake God (Jeremiah 14:10-12), reject God’s call (Proverbs 1:24-25), do not listen to His law (Proverbs 28:9; Zechariah 7:11-13), and have no faith (James 1:6-7). Scripture is also clear that if we die in our sin then we will be separated from God for eternity (Matthew 25:41; Romans 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Another interesting observation of the nature of this relationship comes in the way sinful men (even, arguably, the “most righteous” of sinful men) respond when God allows them a glimpse of His holiness. Consider this: when God revealed Himself to Habakkuk, Habakkuk said that his guts trembled, his lips quivered, and decay entered his bones (Habakkuk 3:16). When God revealed Himself to Job, Job said that he hated himself and immediately repented in dust ashes (Job 42:6). In those brief encounters between God and man (which only God Himself can permit) the holiness of God has obvious devastating effects on man in his sinful state.
I came across a great quote by a fellow named Jeremy Myers about this. He said:
“Sometimes we get this crooked view of God where He cannot look upon sin or be near sin because sin would somehow taint His holiness. Such a view gives sin way too much power and gives God way too little.
God is not like a pristine white couch upon which no one can sit for fear of it getting soiled. No, sin cannot be in the presence of God because whenever God draws near to sin, the raging inferno of His love and holiness washes all sin away. God can no more be tainted by sin than the ocean could be dyed red with a single drop of food coloring.”
So, God certainly knows of the evil and sin in this world. Our sovereign God is not oblivious to it at all. His holiness does not make him blissfully ignorant of sin. He also can choose (and has, at times) to unveil His holiness to those in a sinful body, or state. Think of it like this: our sin forbids us from looking upon His holiness, but His holiness does not prevent Him from looking upon our sinfulness. In fact, He has gone to every possible effort to reconcile those two in Christ Jesus. This brings me to my last question:
If the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man must co-exist, then how must they co-exist?
The very short answer to this is: in the person of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
God sent His Son, the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to reconcile the holiness of God with the sinfulness of man. Scripture says that God Himself put on our human flesh and became sin so that we could become God’s righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Isaiah said that God put the weight of the sins of the world on Jesus so that He could bear them for us (Isaiah 53:5). It also affirms that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus bodily (Colossians 2:9) and that His very nature was the same as God (Philippians 2:6). In other words, Jesus was God in the flesh and made of the very same substance as God the Father.
As a result, sinful man can know holy God through Jesus Christ. This is accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of our sinfulness before God, of His holiness and righteousness, and of His just judgment upon us (John 16:8). Once the Holy Spirit of God works in our hearts, we respond accordingly by verbally confessing our sins to Him (Romans 10:9), repenting of our sinful nature before Him (Acts 3:19), receiving His forgiveness and purification (1 John 1:9), and living a transformed life of faith both in and through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). After this, we live our lives as holy people, constantly offering ourselves to God to continue to be used by Him for His glory (Romans 12:1-2).
This is where we get the idea of “sanctification”, which addresses your question. While we are still living, we live in these sinful bodies and inhabit this sinful nature (Romans 7, again). This never goes away as long as we live. However, when we surrender our lives to Christ and receive His, then He gives us the Holy Spirit which lives inside of us and guides us through life (John 16:13; Romans 6:10-11). This is, for the believer, the union of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. This is only possible because of the person of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, not at all because of us.
One more thing, because I think it is important for answering your question. In sanctification, a distinction is made between positional sanctification and progressive sanctification. Positional sanctification deals with what happens to us spiritually when we surrender to Jesus. Ephesians 2 talks about how when we believe in Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, thereby accepting the exchange of His life for ours, then we are raised up and seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms. Think of it as Christ “securing” our place with Him in Heaven. He’s “saving your seat” because you haven’t got there yet. In this sense, sinful man is “seated with holy Jesus” in Heaven. Progressive sanctification deals with what happens with us practically when we surrender to Jesus. He fills us with His Holy Spirit and lives inside of us. However, we still deal with indwelling sin for as long as we live. This is Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 and his encouragement to believers in Romans 6.
So, as far as how God’s holiness and our sinfulness co-exist, the best answer that I have is through the person of Jesus and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Is God holy? Yes. Is man sinful? Yes. Can sinful man initiate fellowship with holy God? No. However, God has made it possible for His holiness to co-exist with our sinfulness through the “God-man” of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and the ongoing and indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. That being said, this union is only possible after the “Great Exchange” of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Unbelieving, unrepentant sinners do not and cannot have fellowship with holy God.
I know this is an incredibly long answer to your question, but I wanted to do my best to be thoughtful and comprehensive. However, seeking an answer to this question has been the work of theologians for millenia. But, prayerfully, here’s to providing you with a start in the form of searching and considering what Scripture has to say about this.
Thanks for the opportunity to give you an answer!
8 December 2021
You asked me a very practical church question: should you choose a church based on theology or relationships? You’re already in a church where your family has dear friends, but you question the theology being taught there. I’ve tried to outline my thoughts for you, as best as I can, below. I’m praying it’s helpful for you!
As for theological questions as they relate to churches, I have a general lens I run those questions through. I often advise people who are trying to make decisions about churches to think this way: Is this a first-order, second-order, or third-order issue?
A first-order issue is one that separates Christians from non-Christians. This would be salvation through Christ alone, substitutionary atonement, the role of confession, repentance, and forgiveness in the life of the Christian, etc. These types of issues, in other words, are ones that if we don’t agree, then we don’t even have fellowship together in Christ. These are, obviously, the weightiest issues in theology and most important for consideration.
A second-order issue would be one that separates denominations. Speaking in tongues is a classic example of a second-order issue. Pentecostal churches would believe and practice this, while others may believe it and not publicly practice it, and still others wouldn’t believe that tongues is a heavenly language at all. But they are all still Christians. Some other examples might be views on communion, mode of baptism, or roles of elders and deacons within the church. All Christians would believe in these issues, but what they believe about them would keep one fellow Christian with a different view from joining a particular church. For me, the second-order issue of speaking in tongues (and the accompanying view of the filling of the Holy Spirit) would keep me from being a part of a Pentecostal church. I certainly wouldn’t say these folks aren’t Christians, but our differences in these second-order issues would keep me from having my family be a part of that church family.
A third-order issue is one that even people sitting in the same pew can disagree about and still worship together. A classic example of a third-order issue for me is eschatology. It’s such a “non-issue” to me that I can worship beside others who have different views of the millennial reign, rapture, and Second Coming of Christ with no issue at all. (Just for the record: I would consider Christ’s Second Coming somewhere between a first and second-order issue). Now, for some people, eschatology is a second (or even first) order issue. But, third-order issues to me are of such little consequence that I don’t even spend breath debating people about where they stand. Calvinism/Arminianism questions are mostly third-order issues for me, so I don’t often “take a side” in those conversations.
So, I guess my first thought is to consider the question of whether the issues you have in mind are first, second, or third-order issues. That may help you figure out how much of a “big deal” these things are to you and your family and what you should do about it.
The practical side of your dilemma is that your family is already worshiping there and have developed great friendships. This, of course, greatly complicates and influences your decision-making because you’re not dealing in abstractions but in actual flesh-and-blood relationships. Here’s some questions I would consider in your scenario.
Are you in a position where you have to choose between one or the other?
Not to make everything so cranial and academic, but there’s a logical fallacy known as “the logical fallacy of the forced dichotomy”. It occurs when you see two opposing views as the only two possibilities and pitting them against one another without considering the vast possibilities in between those two points. Our modern political arena is the perfect example of this: issues are presented as though there are only two possible solutions and they are diametrically opposed to one another. However, I believe with most things there is only about a ten-percent black area and a ten-percent white area and the other eighty percent is comprised of various shades of gray. This gray area is wrought with paradigms and tensions which, while uncomfortable, help us think and live more “rightly”.
So, if you don’t have to choose between the two, the next question is: what can you live with? If the theology isn’t heretical or damaging, and your family is happy with the relationships there, can you live with that? If the theology is worth breaking fellowship over, then you will have to rethink the relationships formed there, which will inevitably cause some disruption in the family. Can you live with that? When you’re on the eighty percent spectrum of gray, figuring out which gray square is best for you and your family can feel overwhelming and is usually only decided after much prayer and conversation.
A related question is: Do you have to decide now? In your case, there may be no great urgency because your business of getting ordained (with the Alliance or elsewhere) will likely force you into limited church situations. If your family (and mainly your wife) is happy with the church you’re attending now and are being nourished spiritually, and you can live within your theological tensions, then perhaps you let that decision be forced upon you at some point in the future. If so, that gives you plenty of time to let the Lord unfold and clarify His will for you in the meantime.
The unknown element for me (but which you will know) is the relationship you have with your wife and understanding how these decisions will impact her. Alanna (my wife) is incredibly easy-going and trusting of both God and me in my spiritual leadership of our family. She has a high tolerance for uncertainty and is remarkably flexible. If our life plans changed tomorrow, she would roll with it like we had been planning on that for years. I count both her and her personality as one of my greatest blessings in life. I don’t know Casey...but you do! If she is more inflexible and not-so easy-going, then it may require more deliberate and delicate leadership on your part. My only caution in leading her is to lead her. God didn’t call you to lead just any woman, or some idealized version of a wife, but Casey Friend. I don’t know how these kinds of decisions affect her and your marriage, but you do and I would not discount that variable in this equation.
I’m confident that God will reveal His will to you in this...it’s just a question of when and how. I’ll keep praying for you and am happy that God brought you and I together for a season. If any of this is helpful, then Glory to God!
30 November 2021
You asked me earlier about losing your salvation. I wanted to send this letter to you to give a fuller, clearer answer on the subject. I know this will probably be more than you’re looking for, but I felt I needed to hammer this out in order to both do justice to your question and to give you a framework for answering future “big” questions like this.
The best questions don’t have black and white answers. They require more thought and care than a quick response. Almost all great theology questions (like this one) fit well into this category. Furthermore, since theology questions always relate to both God and people, it is fitting to consider who the question impacts and how. To give you a non-theological example, consider this Black Friday/Cyber Monday question that every red-blooded American couple has to wrestle with at this time every year: Is this a good deal? You can’t answer that question once and for all in your first year of marriage and then never revisit it again. You have to answer that question anew every year, and usually with a series of related questions like:
What are our finances like this year?
Are we saving for something in particular?
Are we trying to pay off something in particular?
Do our kids need new shoes?
Do we really need this right now?
You get the idea. While it may be a great deal for a retired couple with no kids living comfortably, it may be a terrible deal for a young couple with three kids who are struggling to get by. And, from year to year, each of them have to consider their new context and circumstances before deciding whether it’s a good deal or not.
Your question is similar: I believe that the question is best answered by a series of related questions, and that these questions must be considered each time the question is asked. Now, remember: you asked me. So, this is my framework and approach to answering this question and others like it. But, my thought process would look something like this:
Am I asking this question for myself? For me personally, this question has never been an issue. Since I have come to know Christ, I have never personally struggled with whether or not I can lose my salvation because I have, thus far, always felt a closeness with Jesus. I haven’t wondered if I lost it along the way or whether I may in the future. I can easily identify with the Psalmist who says “for me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28) and with James when he says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). I am immeasurably thankful that I know the peace that surpasses understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6). I feel correction and rebuke from God’s Spirit all the time - indeed, more often than I would like - but that is all part of God’s sanctifying work in me as I offer myself to Him (Romans 12:1-2). It doesn’t make me question whether or not I am His and He is mine. In fact, by hearing His voice I am reminded that I am known by Him and know Him in an intimately personal way.
So, while I don’t personally wrestle with this question, there are a great many who are deeply and honestly troubled by it...and there are others who are looking to trouble others with it. So, my next question would be something like this:
If not me, who is asking this question and why? There are many reasons someone asks a question, and the person and motivation behind the question are crucial to giving a right answer. For example, consider that the Pharisees asked Jesus questions all the time but their motivation was almost always evil. Matthew 22 is the best example of this. Verse 15 says that they “laid plans to trap Him in His words”. But, Jesus knew this (v. 18) and answered accordingly. He answered their question with a question rather than answering directly. He knew they didn’t care about Him or His answer.
Then there’s the story of the rich, young ruler. He asked Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). His intent behind the question wasn’t evil like the Pharisees, but he seemed to have his own struggles with possessions. So, Jesus answered directly but also addressed the issue he was personally struggling with by telling him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor.
There’s also the instance of the disciples asking Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even after the resurrection, these guys still didn’t seem to grasp the idea of “The Kingdom of God” but were still seeing everything through worldly eyes and in worldly terms. So, again, Jesus didn’t answer their question but rather directed them to what was most important: waiting on the Holy Spirit and being faithful to His mission now.
Then, you have those sincerest of questions born out of a desperate sense of conviction. Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 caused people to ask the greatest of questions: “What must we do?” (Acts 2: 37). The same thing happened again in Acts 16:30. Those honest, desperate questions were rewarded with straight-forward answers full of the truth of the Gospel: repent and believe, every one of you. Those dear questioners were cut to the heart with conviction, and the answers they received were life-giving to weary souls.
I know that you can’t always (or sometimes often) know or judge someone’s intent when asking questions. But, of course, knowing the person and their situation is most helpful to giving them an answer close to what Jesus would give them. So, with your question about salvation, I would consider questions along these lines:
Is this person asking me because they are looking for a debate?
Is this person asking me because they are theologically curious?
Is this person asking me because they are afraid?
Is this person asking me because they need reassurance?
Is this person asking me because they are concerned about a family member or friend?
As you can gather, I usually ask more questions than give answers when people ask me these most serious of questions. I want to give them the best answer for their situation, and knowing their need is the most helpful part of this. Which brings me to my last question I would consider:
What is their need? Why has God put me with this person today? What need does this person have that can be met by Jesus today? If the Holy Spirit and/or their answers to my questions can help shed light on their need, then I feel I can give them the best possible answer to show them to Jesus and help them experience His provision. If they are looking for a debate, and they know where they stand on an issue, then I will not give it to them. Truthfully, Scripture is offered on both sides of this issue and I am never interested in theological ping-pong with these people. People cite passages like Romans 8 and John 10 to “prove” that you cannot lose your salvation. People cite passages like Hebrews 3 and Romans 11 to “prove” that you can lose your salvation. However, I would encourage you to resist the urge to “take a side” or be placed into a particular camp and rather pray to see the need of those asking the question.
If someone is theologically curious, I will often give the entire spectrum of answers and note that theologians have been all over the spectrum for millenia. If someone is afraid or needs reassurance, I will often go to the promises of God that He will never leave or forsake His people and that He knows them that are His. I will try to remind them that the Holy Spirit dwells inside the believer, and He is personally leading and guiding them into truth and righteousness. If someone is asking for a family member or friend, I will try and get that person into the conversation. If I can’t, then I will try my best to speak the truth of Jesus into what I know of their circumstance.
I know that was more than you bargained for, but I foresaw us hashing through many questions and issues like this and I wanted to lay a foundation that would help you understand my approach to answering these questions. John Adams once said of our government that it is a “government of laws and not of men”. Many would take that same idea and apply it to theology: God is a god of laws and not of men. We should just read what He said and broadly and universally apply His laws equally to all people in all stations for all of time. I just so happen to believe that is not only a lazy approach to theology, but also one that doesn’t consider how Christ engaged others. I try to live by the philosophy that “God is a God of men and not of laws”. That is not to say that I ignore His laws, but rather that I understand that one man needs reassurance and hope from God’s laws, while another needs to feel the weight of his sin, and yet another needs encouragement to keep up the good fight.
So, in seeking to answer big theological questions like “Can I lose my salvation?” this is my approach. Draw near to Jesus and He will draw near to you. That answer can take many shapes depending on the person and situation, but my goal is always to be personally drawn near to Jesus in my questioning and draw others near to Him through my answers.
Hope that helps!
29 November 2021
I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to sit down and write you a letter. I get too many thoughts bumping around in my head and, if I don’t get them on paper, they either vanish or just come out like confused, incoherent word vomit.
I was thinking about how you might be feeling given a few factors in your life lately. You bought land and were making plans to build on it...and then Jason lost his job (surprise!). You got a tummy tuck and (I can only assume) thought you were done with having kids...and then you found out you were six months pregnant (surprise!). You might have been planning your life out for the foreseeable future...and then your plans got drug through a minefield. I know when that has happened to me in the past, I have had some emotional wrestling with the Lord and had to really consider (and re-consider) many things. I just wanted to share some of those wrestlings and lessons with you. If anything here is helpful for you, then hallelujah. If not, then fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
When I was praying for you and thinking about everything that has happened to you and your plans recently (and how that might make you feel) it all reminded me of two quotes I reference often. The first is a saying we have in the Army about plans. There are only two kinds of plans: a plan that never works, and a plan that sometimes works. There is never a plan that always works. I have found that to be true of not only tactics and strategy, but life, too. The second is a famous quote from John Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” What the heck do you do when life happens and plans go awry?
Last year, I wrote out 10 “DuBose Family Values” for the kids that hang above our dining room table. They are just important things that I want to talk about with them as they grow up. My hope is that they understand them and internalize them before they hit their own storms later in life. Number 10 is “Hold everything in an open hand”. The whole idea behind it comes from the story of Job where he says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The picture I try to paint for them is that of a tightly-closed fist clenching around everything and clutching onto it for dear life. I have learned that God can and will put new things into my hand (like a baby, or an unexpected change) or take certain things out of my hand (like a job, or my own plans for my future). This is precisely what He did with Job. He has every right to. He is Almighty, Sovereign God, after all! But if I am clutching too tightly to my stuff, it won’t keep Him from giving and taking away. It will only result in Him breaking my fingers to get to my stuff. Besides, He knows what is good for me and what I truly need, so I am only further blessed by the giving and taking he does...whether that be something wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned. All of these things to me are Proverbs 16:9 in action: We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
I have come to believe that much more important than my plans is my attitude when my plans do get blown up. There’s an ancient African proverb that says, “When you are bumped, what you are full of spills out.” It’s really just a rephrasing of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15 where He said “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” Ever since the first time I heard that proverb, it has been convicting to me. And, of course, the harder you are bumped, even more of what you are full of spills out of you. What comes out of me is of far more concern than what bumped into me.
I have also learned that the more trust I have in the gracious goodness of God to “give and take away”, the purer is the stuff that comes out of me. Conversely, the less trust and faith I have in God the more likely it is that the bumps of life knock some really nasty stuff out of me. I was reading back through a journal I kept back in 2015 and came across this instance. It’s just an example of a small “bump” knocking some scary stuff out of me.
Not too long ago, I had an instance where what came out of me frightened me. I had, just a few months prior, received the gracious gift of an ipad from my congregation, which was quickly employed in most every arena of my life. One day, without thinking, I set it down on the driver’s seat of our van. Then, like children do, my kids began barreling out of the car like an angry herd of rhinos. One child performed a high-quality knee drop right on the screen, immediately and irreversibly sending a crack from one end to the other. I became almost enraged for some reason, and instantly sought to discipline my child. Suddenly, the Spirit spoke to me in that moment. “Why are you so angry about that material possession that you didn’t even purchase to begin with? Aren’t you the one that thoughtlessly and carelessly placed it in the chair?” My reaction frightened me because it caused a light to shine in this dark place in my heart. Luckily, rather than immediately discipline my child out of anger, I repented before the Lord of this “evil treasure” in my heart.
I said all of that to say this: The Lord has taught me that the bumps of life are a consequence of living, and that the most important thing is not how the plans affect my life but what they reveal about me. I’m sure that you have mixed feelings about everything going on right now. I know I would. When I was thinking about you and praying for you this morning, I felt compelled to write you this letter. I just felt led to share it with you because I have seen people do one of two things when they hit bumps: they either clinch their fist and grit their teeth harder, or they loosen their grip and trust God more with the unexpected. In general, I have seen that those who clinch their fist harder only get angrier and bitter about the bumps while those who loosen their grip smile more and enjoy the ride, knowing that more bumps will come and God is still in control. I still pray that God keeps a smile on my face and a soft heart in my chest, allowing me to stay joyful, hopeful, and faithful through the bumps. I have seen too many unhappy, bitter, closed-off older people who let life’s bumps harden them and I don’t want to be that way...and I don’t want you to be that way either. I’m praying you will see these bumps like Joseph saw his bumps: something that God used for good, regardless of how he saw them initially.
Sometimes I think that we are so hard-headed that the only way God can get our attention is to “give and take away” those things that we build our lives around. I know that I am a better person for having learned a great deal about God and myself in life’s “bumps” and it has helped to lessen the blow of future bumps. If I hadn’t learned that lesson (or what of it that I have learned so far), then even small bumps would still be huge to me.
I love you and I’m praying for you. I can’t wait to see you guys at Christmas. Whether it’s hallelujah or fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, thanks for listening :)
Scott Borderud Memorial Service
Marty Leonard Community Chapel
Fort Worth, TX
30 October 2021
Good afternoon. My name is Justin DuBose and I had the privilege of calling Scott Borderud (with Norwegian pronunciation) my mentor, my friend, my dear brother, and a father-figure to me for the past 11 years. Scott asked me about 8-9 months ago to give his eulogy. In the linguistic sense, a eulogy is just words: good words, true words, well words. But my problem this morning is (the English subtitles are) that I lack the vocabulary necessary to not only capture how extraordinary and well-rounded and complex my very best friend was. So I feel the need to employ visual as well as auditory means this afternoon.
PUT ON ROBE AND HAT AND SET OUT THE COFFEE MUG. This is how he always introduced himself: Naval Academy and Marine led the way, followed by pastor and theologian, and the Army almost never got mentioned. Drat.
As I channel my inner Borderud this afternoon, here is my refrain for eulogizing my best friend and second father: I love this man so much. I love him so much it doesn’t even make sense to try and explain my feelings for him to anyone else. But, I’m gonna try for you today.
I have always felt like my relationship with Scott is the closest thing I’ll ever experience to Jonathan and David in Scripture. There was no familial relationship, no shared bloodlines, and yet there was something between the two of them that was deeper than any language could express. 1 Samuel says that Jonathan loved David as his own soul and this is exactly how I feel about this man I love so much.
I love this man so much. When I first met Scott, he was pastoring a larger church, he had a doctorate in theology, he was a Naval Academy graduate (the first service academy grad I had ever met), former Marine Infantry Officer, an ethics and leadership professor at one of the US Army’s graduate institutions, and a retired Army officer. He was, in any crowd, a man amongst men…and more than I, as I was then, could ever hope to be.
See, at the time I met Scott I was a floundering, multi-time college dropout who had wrecked his GPA at one point down to a 0.9. I was driving a school bus and substitute teaching trying to put myself through school one last time. My most recent job before that had been as a truck driver driving a refer truck hauling frozen seafood up and down the East Coast. Oh by the way, sports fans, in the world of logistics, “refer” doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in other circles...
What in the world did a man like Dr. Rev. CH (LTC) Scott Borderud give me the blankety-blank time of day for? That’s one of those mysteries that I’ll never know the answer to this side of eternity!
I love this man so much because he took this floundering boy struggling with direction, and graciously led me to God’s path for my life. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today without him. The story of how we met is a testimony to God’s sovereignty and providence. In 2010, God called Scott & Carol to Toccoa, GA where my wife, Alanna, just so happened to be working as a nurse with a retired missionary who went to First Alliance. Alanna mentioned that I was sensing a call to the chaplaincy and Deb, her co-worker, mentioned that their new pastor was a retired chaplain. She gave Scott my number, and he called me – a complete stranger – a few times before I answered the phone. When we finally met, he took me out for some very mediocre and forgettable barbeque, and the rest – as they say – is history. What began as a military mentorship of an older Paul to a younger (but much rougher around the edges) Timothy blossomed into what I’m sure is the deepest human friendship I’ll ever experience.
I love this man so much because he mentored me, befriended me and loved on me when he didn’t have to and – as I see it – had no good reason to. We spent hours together – at his insistence – running around the track talking about everything under the sun; running up and down the stairs at the high school football stadium; him taking every “learning opportunity” to tell me something that he thought would be valuable to me now or in the future; we even had a movie night where we watched Napoleon Dynamite together at his house.
I love this man so much because he is the only person in my life to believe in me and speak boldly over me things that I would have never believed about myself. I remember when he told me that I should pursue a terminal doctorate degree because I had the mind and capacity for it. I had the mind for it? This was still the same kid who was a school bus driver with a GPA that started with “0”. What kind of crazy pills was this guy taking? And, I want to say publicly that it is ONLY because of Scott, I stand before you today weeks or months away from obtaining my Ph.D. I turned in my completed manuscript earlier this week. I was really hoping to finish while he was still alive, but I want to publicly give him the credit and honor for that accomplishment. He was the only one who saw something there and believed in me.
I love this man so much because he trusted me – a redneck from a lineage of cattle ranchers on one side and actual Tennessee hill-billies on the other – with his pulpit and platform on a weekly basis. And this wasn’t some remote church in the plains of Texas or the hills of Tennessee. This was a church filled with college presidents and administrators, theology professors, doctors, and retired missionaries from around the world.
I love this man so much because he stood up for me and advocated for me even when he had nothing to gain from doing so. When he brought me on staff as his Associate Pastor, he caught such flack for it. I remember telling him one time, after a particularly difficult meeting in which he continually defended me, that he could throw me overboard if it would keep his ship from sinking. But, he stood by me tirelessly until we had weathered the storm together…and he is the only person in my life (besides my wife) who has shown such undying love and faithfulness toward me.
Now that I’m serving in different positions of leadership, I understand the enormous amount of courage he possessed and the courage it took to do that day in and day out. You could all share your stories of his – as his obituary stated – uncommon courage – but I’d to share with you two.
STORY OF EYEGLASSES AND HEARING AIDS
STORY OF REFUSING TO TAKE OFF HIS CROSS DURING DESERT STORM
If his courage in advocating for me while I was serving on his staff wasn’t enough, he also courageously advocated for me to take my first Senior Pastor position in NC (which, oh by the way, meant leaving his staff) even after the District Superintendent said he preferred an older candidate because of the dynamics of the church. And just a couple of years ago, he advocated for me to move to the Houston area to pastor a church here. It came at just the time when Alanna and I were praying about where God might call us next. Scott was always an answer to prayer for me.
I love this man so much because he brought so much joy and laughter into my life. One of the many things we had in common was a big laugh that filled the room. He had such a great laugh! Some of my deepest laughs have come with him. I just wanted to share with you a few funny stories (I promised Scott I would do this!) where I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. There are so many it was hard to pick just a few.
He always had a way of saying things that made regular remarks hilarious. STORY ABOUT SIT-UPS AND HIM SAYING “I CAN SEE YOU DON’T HAVE ON REGULATION SHORTS”
[Schadenfreude] STORY ABOUT EVERYONE STEPPING IN DOG POO WHEN THEY GOT OUT OF MY BIG VAN AT A DISTRICT CONFERENCE
STORY ABOUT SPONGE SCOTT BROWN PANTS
The last time I talked to Scott, a few days before he died, I told him that I loved him and he told me he loved me, too. He also told me that he missed me. Well, I’d like to finish today by saying two things to Scott that he said to me. I was scrolling back through our text messages this week, and on June 18, 2018 he sent me a text out of the blue. All it said, just as he said to me last week, was “Today, I missed you.” Scott, today – and every day – I will miss you so very much. The only time I ever saw him get choked up was at my farewell service in Toccoa. He quoted Shakespeare and, choking back tears, said “Parting is such sweet sorrow”. Well, today my very dearest earthly friend, I say it back to you with the same emotion you said it to me back then: Parting is such sweet sorrow. I will miss you more than I can say or understand.
13 June 2021
ABC Baytown is delighted to extend you the invitation to serve with us as our Outreach Pastor with the eventual goal of launching as a church planter. We believe the Holy Spirit has brought us together in partnership for this important season of life and ministry.
As the Outreach Pastor, you will be responsible to work with the elders under the direction of the Lead Pastor in the areas of outreach and church mobilization. We expect and invite you to shape this position in a way that best expands the Kingdom of Christ in our city, furthers the mission of ABC Baytown, and best prepares for you for service as a church planter in the future. Pastor Justin and our elders will collaborate with you in the coming weeks to finalize a job description.
The compensation available for this position is $30,000 for a two-year period with the option of an additional another year if needed. This comes with the understanding and agreement that this is necessarily a bi-vocational position for you. Pastor Justin and our Administrative Committee will work with you in the coming weeks to allocate these funds in a way that most blesses you and suits the needs of your family. We will then finalize a compensation package based upon these conversations.
We expect to seek counsel from and work with Eddie DeJesus of the Alliance South Central for additional guidance and ongoing help in the area of fundraising, designating funds, obtaining grants, and other possible avenues which may aid our efforts at supporting you and our future church planting endeavors.
This position does not come with any benefits. However, we have allocated $5,000 for helping with re-location expenses for your move from Las Vegas. We also want to work with you on providing manpower to help you and your family move and get happily settled into your residence.
The tentative start date for this position is August 1, 2021. Please confirm your intentions to accept our offer by signing and returning this letter. We are excited about serving with you and are trusting our Father for His gracious hand of guidance and sovereignty in this partnership which He has superintended.
yours in Christ,
Rev. Justin DuBose
Lead Pastor, ABC Baytown
Were we able to rewind the tape to our 2020 annual meeting one year ago, who among us would have guessed what 2020 would look like? I certainly couldn’t have guessed…and if you say you could, we all know you’re lying! To use an already overused word, 2020 was definitely unprecedented. It was unprecedented for many reasons, but its impact on church and ministry was significant for us.
If you remember, at last year’s annual meeting I announced our plan for March 2020: a series of services designed to focus specifically on the person of Jesus Christ and His mission for His church in sharing His Gospel with the world. I was hoping to facilitate more dialogue than a typical Sunday morning service, with a specific focus on Jesus’ heart for the lost around us. We (your elders) were praying for creativity and unity within our body, and to better discern your heart and understanding of God’s purpose for us here and now. Once those meetings were concluded, we (your elders) would synthesize your feedback and begin prayerfully putting together a corporate vision for ABC. Well, we got two weeks into the month and the bottom fell out of the planet. As the well-known saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. In fact, March would prove to be the last time we would physically see much of our church family for the rest of the year.
After that, everything was triage for a while. We needed video and audio capabilities that week to continue to “be together” and seek God together in some form. I scrambled to set up a make-shift studio in the Grace House. The help of the elders during this process was invaluable. God provided in so many ways, but the unique blessing of our relationship with Templo Emmanuel cannot be overstated. They loaned us (and are still loaning us) their expertise and equipment to broadcast our worship services every week without interruption. For this I am especially grateful. Before our first virtual service, I joked with the elders that I was nervous our broadcast would look like an Al-Qaeda hostage video! Thanks to Templo Emmanuel and their generosity, everything was first class. As your elders continued to serve week after week in their virtual capacity putting together worship services, we were also meeting each week to pray for you and seek God’s direction about how to minister in this new paradigm.
These prayers produced much fruit. As we talked to you, our church family, we were hearing and discerning some of your questions and concerns. With no way to discuss these issues together in person, we initiated our “Ask the Elders” segments. We also initiated a short corporate series called “Committed Christians, Current Events”. In the midst of all the political turmoil, domestic division, and divisive opinions, we wanted our church family to continue to hear from God – and each other – about what God would want us to gather from Him. During this time, we also began a weekly prayer meeting and a mid-week encouragement from me, your pastor. Both these ministries have continued since their inception. In May, we also held our first outdoor worship service. By the end of the year, we would host another outdoor service and an outdoor Christmas Eve service.
Over the summer, we began praying about resuming our physical gatherings on Sunday mornings. We had both buildings (the Grace House and the gym) cleaned thoroughly: floors, chairs, curtains, furniture, base boards, everything. We then resumed our corporate worship services in July while still livestreaming from our ABCBaytown youtube page. While 2020 presented many challenges for us – and what we faced was nothing like what we planned or were prepared for – I believe it was an incredibly fruitful year of ministry for us. There are a few important reasons why I can say can this honestly and without reservation. They were important enough that I wanted to highlight them for you in my annual report.
Four Reasons I’m Thankful for 2020
Firstly, it brought about a greater reliance on God’s spirit and a needed reminder us of His sovereignty and sufficiency. I have preached many-a-sermon (and you have heard as many) about God being in control. I have preached as many sermons (and you have heard as many) about God being all that we need in and for this life. While preaching and listening are good and needed disciplines, personal experience – especially that which is forced upon you and for which you could not be prepared – provides an indelible reminder of two marvelous biblical truths: our Father is most certainly in control and He is most certainly all we need. If 2020 brought nothing else of worth (which, I believe, is very far from the truth), this would be enough.
Both the Scriptural record and our own human experience teach us that we value control, or, at minimum, the sensation of it, more than almost anything else. Ironically, however, it is this desire to control which often sidelines the matchless Christian experience of complete surrender to the Holy Spirit. Our surrender to His sovereignty reminds us of His sufficiency; it is in those moments of feeling “tossed to and ‘fro” that we are reminded again that Christ is truly all we need. I thank Jesus Christ our Lord that the events of 2020 allowed us this invaluable Christian experience.
Secondly, 2020 brought about a level of intentional pastoral awareness and care from your elders that, I don’t think, would have existed otherwise. Over the past sixteen years, I have been blessed to serve in four different churches, in three different states, and in two different denominations. In all my experience, I can say truthfully that our elders at ABC are the healthiest and purest group of men I have served with. Each of us truly love shepherding the flock He has given us and feel the weight of that spiritual burden acutely. If ever there was a group of “under-shepherds” who genuinely cared for their folks and sought to lead them well, it is surely your elders.
However, the demands of ministry and the “tyranny of the urgent” can easily (and often do) push pastoral awareness and care to the fringes. Sermon preparation, meetings, e-mail correspondence, broken water heaters, job and family demands, workdays, denominational obligations, and praying and planning for the future regularly force themselves to the top of the priority list. What better to properly rearrange priorities than a yearlong global pandemic? I pray that each of you have personally witnessed and experienced the value and care of your elders this year. We spent much time in prayer, and each one of us personally reached out to the church to check on their needs. This fall, for example, Viandra and I completed “Operation Flower Power” and personally delivered flowers to each church family in our directory. I thank our Father for the opportunity to more intentionally and acutely minister to our church family in 2020.
Thirdly, routine-disrupting and life-altering events tend to increase individual and corporate focus on what really matters. As Thomas Paine famously stated in his pamphlet The American Crisis: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” One of the earliest prayers from your elders this year was that a corporate absence from one another would make our individual hearts grow fonder toward each other and more clearly recognize the “dearness” that is being part of God’s family. I know that prayer has been answered for me, and I hope it has been for you, too.
We can easily take for granted that which has been so accessible, predictably consistent, and ever-present, even (and sometimes especially) when it is the dearest of treasures. Those life-altering and routine-disrupting “wake up calls” often seem to be God’s method of getting us back to what really matters. In our case, that is treasuring, chiefly, Christ and His timeless Gospel. Secondly, it is treasuring His bride, the Church, and loving and serving those (and with those) who make up this Gospel family. Thirdly, it is treasuring His mission for us: reaching an ever-so-obvious searching, lost, hopeless, dying world with His Good News for them.
Lastly, it forced upon us a “clean slate” for ministry. Just as church leadership faces the “tyranny of the urgent” challenge, so churches face the “tyranny of the routine” challenge. When I accepted the call to come to Baytown 18 months ago, I certainly had no plans to bring big changes to ABC. In fact, my only plan was to spend a year loving you, living and serving with you, and earning your trust. I am grateful that God allowed me 8 months to do that before our personal interaction was significantly altered.
However, oftentimes changes to church ministries, formats, methods, and even paradigms are where the Holy Spirit leads His people in order to bring about greater Gospel-empowered effectiveness. But…you know as well as I that we are all too often creatures of deeply engrained habits, and change – even on the smallest of scales – is the last thing we want and the first thing we resist. For that reason, I am so grateful for 2020 because it forced us to rest from everything for a season and spend more time in prayer and consideration before the Father about what He desires for us now and how He wants us to accomplish His purposes.
Now, with all that being said about this past year, let me turn your attention to the year before us: 2021. I first want to address what I can foresee as our immediate challenges and then conclude my report with some exciting opportunities to draw close to our Savior, glorify Him together, and build His Kingdom here this year.
Challenges in 2021
Our foremost challenge this year, as I see it now, is simply resuming engagement and regaining momentum. As a kid, I was fascinated by the Strongman competitions. One of the events featured each man pulling an 18-wheeler. Once they got it moving, everything was smooth sailing; getting the truck moving from a standstill took all their energy. I think this is an appropriate analogy for us in 2021. Presently, many fears and anxieties persist about COVID, and worry surrounding the national and political climate has not subsided. For many of us, our own habits of adjusting to virtual worship services on Sunday with no physical gatherings during the week will be difficult to change. Once we can resume physical, corporate ministry (in whatever form that looks like), re-engaging in the mission together may be quite a substantial challenge. With that in mind, I would just ask you, as your pastor, to remember why we are here: to glorify God and build His Kingdom here on Earth.
It was in a world of much greater personal risk, uncertainty, turmoil, and fear than today that Jesus spoke His Great Commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is why we are here! This is what God has placed us at this point in history to accomplish and the One with all authority is with us.
Consider that in addition to our mission is the urgency with which Scripture speaks of it. “The end of all things is near” Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:7. “Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” Jesus’ brother, James, soberly reminds us of the painful brevity of life (James 4:13-17). “You don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away.” He even goes so far as to proclaim what you will do tomorrow as boasting in arrogance and evil. To assume that tomorrow is a given for us is to assume that we ourselves are sovereign and omniscient, a slight and affront from those who are not to Him who is.
Christ’s mission is the single most important purpose our lives serve each day, and we just don’t know when our time – or the time of those we are praying to reach – will reach its end. Moreover, Christ talks about the need for workers to bring in the harvest. In Matthew 9:37 He says that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Though re-engaging in the mission of the Church and the mission of Christ will be a challenge for us, it is one that we cannot afford to shrink from. We simply cannot let other things, either internally or externally, keep us from actively praying and striving to reach our hopelessly lost and dying neighbors with the best, most important News they could ever hear.
Opportunities & Goals for 2021
With His mission and urgency before you, let me with great joy and anticipation share with you some opportunities and goals for ABC that I am praying and working toward in 2021. These are goals I am setting for our family to help fulfill Christ’s mission and opportunities that you have to love and serve one another and reach the world.
Firstly, we are in the process of renovating the common areas of Grace House to become a “mobilization station” for our church. The Administrative Committee has approved using $6,000 from our Advance Vision Fund to remodel the living room and dining room areas of Grace House. Budget permitting, this remodel includes new furniture, new paint and flooring, and a more open-concept design to better utilize the space. Once completed, the space will be used to host comfortable, informal church groups where we will sharpen one another in evangelism. The goal is for our ABC family to become better equipped and comfortable with sharing our faith. This means considering together the truths of the Gospel, how we share His Good News with others, and how we can organize ourselves as a church to reach out.
Once completed, I would love to have two sessions each year: one in the Spring and one in the Fall using a combination of video-based curriculum and facilitated group discussion. If the project can be completed by summer 2021, my goal is to host our first group from roughly September – November 2021. Of course, this space could also be used for a number of other functions, but its principle purpose would be to train ourselves to better reach our neighbors with the Gospel.
Secondly, I would love for the new-and-improved Grace House to serve as an incubator for small groups specifically designed for outreach. If Grace House serves as our grounds for training, we still need a field in which we deploy ourselves. The mission of Christ is inseparable from action. 1 Corinthians 4:20 tells us plainly that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” Likewise, the need for laborers mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 9 implies there is work, not talk, to be done. Consequently, our end goal cannot simply be gathering to talk about God, but to go and make disciples and actively demonstrate the power of God in saving and redeeming lost souls.
If Grace House serves as our “mobilization station”, then small groups would be our deployment. When people think of small groups, they often think of groups that meet to eat, talk, read, and pray together. However, the effort behind these small groups would be to reach out, and reach out specifically to non-Christians. What does this look like? It could be organizing a series of movie “Screen on the Green” nights on the church lawn. It could be a group getting involved in community events. It could be organizing a “mom’s morning out” or after school tutoring. It could be targeting a nearby nursing home. The possibilities are as limitless as the Spirit’s creativity at work within us, but the point is that we want to actually reach people, not simply talk about reaching people. Your elders will be praying (and I would ask that you pray with us) about how we can best reach the lost around us. As the time gets closer to launching this ministry, I look forward to having more details to share with you.
Thirdly, we are planning to more strategically use our front lawn to have a more visible presence in our community. This past year we hosted three outdoor services. Your feedback was positive, and we are planning to utilize this valuable space more often this year. My vision for this space goes far beyond simply moving a worship service outdoors from time-to-time. I would love to see our services accompanied by a shared meal afterwards, inflatables and games for children, and the foundation of the mini-gym used for sports and activities for youth. These could serve both for the enjoyment and edification of our own family as well as an outreach to others. One of our small groups could lead that outreach effort, inviting people and organizing events both in conjunction with church activities and stand-alone events held on the church grounds.
I plan to have banners made up which would invitingly advertise our outdoor worship services as well as any events held on the front lawn. With such a beautiful and strategically valuable space, I would love to see it used more effectively.
In His grace, our Father was good to ABCBaytown in 2020. We cannot ignore His gifts, nor can we be ungrateful. Both seeing and experiencing all that God has done for us, I pray to serve Him together with you more fully in 2021. Like every year, I lay out before you these goals and opportunities for 2021 understanding that everything happens according to God’s will and in His time. Thus, these plans may easily “go awry” this year. Even so, we rest assured that God will glorify Himself through His people. May we seek to glorify God and build His Kingdom here together in 2021.
yours in Christ,
16 OCT 2020
I am sending you these two books because they have ministered to my heart in previous seasons of grief. One ministered primarily to my heart and spirit (A Future and A Hope) and the other my mind and spirit (A Grief Observed).
Both were written following the loss of loved ones: for CS Lewis, his wife, and for Jon Courson, his wife and daughter. You may be familiar with both – heck, you may even have both – but these came to mind when I was thinking of you and praying for you this week.
I’m grateful I got to see you and Joey and Katie. I hope seeing me didn’t cause any PTSD for you!
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence