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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dever, 'Baptized Pagans', and the Ministry of Richard Greenham

Mark Dever at the T4G blog has shared the following:

"In [this city], churches are wealthy enough to market themselves a crowd (I am also guilty). And how do we market? By asking and supplying what people say they prefer for their church experience. Given that my community finds 'relevance' the most important value to hold, I have been feeding them human enrichment rather than eternal and powerful truth (I have been like Joel Osteen in style with a little SBC culture thrown in). I have grown a church of baptized pagans."

That's just a portion of a truly remarkable email I received today. A dear brother, of exemplary humility and striking faithfulness in his pastoral labors shared with me the problems that he had created by following popular church growth methods. External growth had occured, yes, but, he confessed, "I have grown a church of baptized pagans."

Sadly enough, I have seen (and unfortunately been a part of) churches plagued with baptized pagans. Was it not Billy Graham that said the greatest mission field in the United States is the pews of our churches? Yet I must say that not only are the church growth techniques fostering baptized pagans, but I also believe that we need to recover a biblical understanding of regeneration and conversion. Ironically, the decisionistic regeneration style of Graham has perpetuated much of this faulty understanding of conversion where if you pray a prayer, walk down an aisle, or do some other mechanical formula then you have unlocked the heavenly code, are converted, and assured of going to heaven regardless if there are any evidences of the Spirit's operations in the sinner.

It is refreshing to hear the candid confessions of pastors who have realized the bottomless pit of pragmatism which has established a false sense of security among unbelievers and at the same time done shame to the name of Christ who has promised that He will build His Church. Pastors today are pressured by peers, practitioners, and program-managers to be successful by the measuring stick of statistical data, regardless of what that data represents. As long as there is something on the papers to send into the association, share on the golf course with fellow ministers, or for the justification of anthropocentric methods which efficaciously push every button on man's dial.

I have recently been reminded of a man by the name of Richard Greenham, the mentor and model for Richard Baxter and other Reformed pastors (also author of a great pastoral book called Practical Divinity). Many know Baxter through his writings of The Reformed Pastor and A Christian Directory, but few have heard of Greenham. For twenty years (1570-1590) Greenham pastored in a small town called Dry Drayton which was seven miles from Cambridge. Here is how Packer described this great minister's labors:

"He worked extremely hard. He rose daily at four and each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday preached a sermon at daybreak, to catch his flock before they dispersed into the fields; then on Sunday he preaced twice, and in addition catechised the children of the parish each Sunday evening and Thursday morning. Mornings he studied, afternoons he visited the sick, or walked out into the fields 'to confer with his Neighbours as they were at Plough'. In his preaching, Henry Holland, his biographer tells us, 'he was so earnest, and took such extraordinary pains, that his shirt would usually be as wet with sweating, as if it had been drenched with water, so that he was forced, as soon as he came out of the Pulpit to shift himself. . . .' He was a pastoral of uncommon skill" (A Quest for Godliness, 43).
Now can one find me such a minister of this mold today? A man disciplined in the rigors of tireless labor, robustly devoted to God's Word, and resoundingly passionate about God's people at 'the Plough' and in the pew. He was the epitome of what a "reformed pastor" is to look like. And yet you would think that his work came with extraordinary blessings, right? You would think that such a man would have been very "successful" according to today's standards. Yet history tells us in that long watch of twenty years there was virtually no fruit. Greenham's disciple, Richard Baxter, ministered for fourteen years (1641-42, 1647-60) with extraordinary fruit with the greater part of Kidderminster (his parish) making a meaningful profession of faith. Hear the passionate and humble response of Baxter as he reflects on this contrast:

"O what am I, a worthless Worm . . . that God should thus abundantly encourage me, when the Reverend Instructors of my Youth, did labour Fifty years together in one place, and could scarcely say they had converted one or two of [i.e., out of] their Parishes!" (59).
John Greenham and Richard Baxter had a solid, theocentric understanding of pastoral success and humble service. Baptized pagans were not found among either of them in their contrasting results. The reason for this was because they knew what counted before God, and that by the sovereignty of His Spirit. O that minister's today could undergo such a reformation in their ministries today! Lord, give us men like Greenham and Baxter once again! May you open eyes to see the folly and foolery of attempting to manufacture and mimick Your work. And let these divine realities drive us to greater devotion to you as you direct our hearts in greater discernment and desire for there to be glory in Your Church through those whom you "have called out of darkness and into His marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

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