Happy Burning Papal Bulls Day!

On this day (December 10) in 1520, Martin Luther burned the papal bull Exsurge Domine that denounced 41 of his 95 Theses and threatened him with excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, Luther would be excommunicated the following year.

Here is a famous painting by Karl Aspelin of Luther burning copies of the papal bull along with books of canon law and works by scholastic theologians (source):




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The three standards to which every pastor is held

I have just begun my eighteenth year of ordained, full-time pastoral ministry so I can talk about this not only with confidence but with competence because I have myself been held to these three types of standards. Only one of these standards is healthy.

The Pastor Should Be Held to a Higher Standard

This is healthy. The pastor is supposed to represent Christ to the people under his care and lead them in walking with Christ and growing to maturity through Word, Spirit, and the Fellowship of the Saints. This doesn’t mean being perfect (more on that in a minute) but honest about the struggles of the Christian life and open about how Christ sustains one in the midst of those struggles. In interpersonal relations the pastor must take the high road and demonstrate the graciousness of God and the love of Christ to those inside and outside the church whether in business dealings, personal dealings, or opposition. There is much more that may be said about this but you get the point.

But there are two other standards to which pastors are often held that are not only unhealthy, but just plain wrong.

The Pastor is Often the Victim of a Double Standard

What I mean by this is that some people will expect that they can treat you in ways that they themselves would not tolerate from another. For example, it is wrong for a pastor to be rude, unkind, and mean during a meeting with other leaders in the church. That goes without saying (or should). But it is also wrong for any Christian, deacon, elder, average church member, to be rude, unkind, or mean during a meeting or anywhere else. The exhortations to gracious speech and grace in our dealings with each other do not apply only to the pastor, but to all Christians.

Hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that if church members get nasty the pastor is justified in being nasty. I am saying the exact opposite: No one should behave this way in the body of Christ. If it is wrong for your pastor to behave this way, it is equally as wrong for you or someone else to behave this way. To expect the pastor to live by a Scriptural standard while refusing to live by it yourself is a double standard. And it is wrong.

Here is an example from my own experience. Back when the church was going through a difficult time financially, a man told me that if my wife would get a job (we had small children at the time) then the church could pay me less and save money. Now think about this for a moment. If this same man was working at Ford or GM (I live and serve in Metro Detroit), and his boss said this to him, he absolutely would not stand for it. Neither should a pastor.

This leads me to the final standard.

The Pastor is often Held to an Impossible Standard

This is a real and true conversation that once happened between me and an older woman in my congregation (who is now with the Lord).

Woman: Pastor, I am very upset! You didn’t visit me when I was in the hospital last week.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital.

Woman: You still should have visited me.

No, I am not joking. That is what she said.

Another time a woman chastised me in front of a crowd of people in the church auditorium for not visiting her after her (grown) daughter died. She was still angry after I reminded her that I was out of town when her daughter died and by the time I returned she had gone to stay with her sister, who lived several hours away, for six weeks (and I didn’t even know who her sister was or where exactly she lived).

You should be able to see my point. These are impossible standards. The previous pastor at this church would have apologized profusely and attempted to make up for it. But you do a disservice to the Gospel ministry, to the church, and to these people when you permit such things to go unanswered.

In both cases I graciously reminded them that what they were demanding was impossible. How am I to visit you in the hospital when I don’t even know you’re in the hospital? How am I to visit you at your sisters house when I have no idea where it is, or how even to get in touch with you?

You must be gracious, but you do not have to allow them to do this. Graciously and lovingly manage their expectations by letting them see what is reasonable and right.

And hopefully you’re already holding yourself to a higher standard. Demanding more of yourself will eventually do away with the other two standards.

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This is what happens when you let research assistants write your books for you: Statement from Zondervan Academic on Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s John Commentary

This is one of the possible problems that arise when a prof has research assistant writing for them. I had a prof in grad school who published a dictionary using research assistants. I don’t know how the others fared, but five of the six articles in that dictionary are word-for-word exactly what I wrote. The sixth is my work in the same manner with only the intro removed. I did get a thank you on the acknowledgements page, but he is still listed as the author when the work (at least in my regard) was not his. I know that’s how many do it but it’s still just wrong. The next time he asked me to serve as a “research” assistant for him, I politely declined.

Statement from Zondervan Academic on Dr. Andreas Köstenberger’s John Commentary

In October 2017 Dr. Andreas Köstenberger informed Zondervan Academic that his commentary on the Gospel of John in volume 2 of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary: New Testament (ZIBBC: NT) contained “a series of inadvertently unattributed references” to D. A. Carson’s The Gospel according to John in The Pillar New Testament Commentary published by Wm. B. Eerdmans. After careful consideration of the evidence, we concluded that the problem was so extensive that there was no acceptable way to fix the problem. Since the commentary on John in volume 2 of ZIBBC: NT does not consistently follow commonly accepted standards for the use and documentation of secondary resources, our commitment to high publishing standards leaves us no choice but to put volume 2 of the ZIBBC: NT out of print in its print form and to destroy the remaining inventory. The digital formats of the John part of volume 2 are also out of print and withdrawn from the market.


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Paul’s view that suffering is essential for Christian growth

My dissertation explores Paul’s theology of suffering. Part of my thesis involves demonstrating that Paul’s view of suffering was radically different from that of the ancient philosophers. The view of the ancient philosophers, especially the Stoics, whose philosophy had become the standard worldview in by Paul’s day, is that suffering is to be avoided and that one’s desire should be to eliminate the emotional distress (λύπη) caused by suffering.

Paul’s prescriptions for dealing with λύπη make clear that Paul’s view is polar opposite from the philosophers (and perhaps I’ll explain that in another post). Here in Romans 5, Paul’s use of καυχάομαι coupled with κατεργάζομαι also demonstrates his departure from the prevailing view of viewing sufferings.

I note that Paul here does not use λύπη because he is not talking here about the emotional effects of the suffering so much as he is talking about the sufferings themselves. Paul uses a generic, catch-all, word for “sufferings,” θλῖψις,[1] but his claim that believers “boast” in or “glory” in (καυχάομαι) is the most striking feature of this sentence.

There are a few places in the philosophers suffering is seen as a neutral, something that one could allow to triumph over a person or that the wise person could turn around and use for his or her advantage, but nowhere will one find the advice to “glory” in or “boast” in sufferings.

Paul’s use of κατεργάζομαι to describe the result of suffering and tribulation supports this view. If Paul only intended to say that suffering can be used to bring about growth, then we might reasonably expect to see simply ἐργάζομαι. Instead, Paul uses a verb that also focuses on result. As Moo points out, κατεργάζεται “sometimes stresses the end result (“produce”) more than ἐργάζομαι.”[2] Consequently, many translations use “produce” to translate κατεργάζεται, a translation that itself focuses on result.[3]


So Paul is not simply saying that one can turn one’s sufferings around so that they bring about produce growth, Paul is saying that suffering is essential to growth as a Christian. Since suffering is so essential to growth as a Christian, when one endures sufferings, one may “boast” in those sufferings (rather than in oneself), because these are the very things that will produce the necessary and desired growth in the Christian life.

[1] Cranfield (ICC 149) notes that “θλῖψις can denote tribulations of various kinds” which is consistent with the broad use of θλῖψις both in and out of Scripture. Paul may have chosen this word because he anticipates his letters being read by a wide range of people.

[2] Moo, (NICNT 116, n. 128)

[3] NLT has “develop,” which, while within the semantic domain in κατεργάζεται falls short of how this word is usually employed.

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Every pastor should have a story like this: Beware church visitors bearing gifts

I still chuckle every time I think about this.

Several years ago, two sisters visited the church where I serve as pastor. After the service they spent twenty minutes telling me how I should have preached the text and pointed out everything they thought was wrong with my sermon. (Mind you, neither of them has, by their own admission, ever preached a sermon, taught a Bible lesson, or received any biblical, theological, or homiletical training at all.)

A few months later, as I was calling people who had visited our church to invite them back, I called one of the sisters, not realizing this was who I was calling. This time she spent fifteen minutes on the phone telling me all the stuff I did wrong that she presumably either hadn’t gotten to when they visited before or simply had thought of since then. I tried to be gracious and I invited them to worship with us again since they still had not found a church home (I can’t help but wonder why).

She and her sister returned a couple of weeks later. Since it was around Christmastime they brought me a “gift.” Their gift was…

(and I am not joking here)

a book about how to preach.

They have not returned. And that’s okay. I really do hope they found a pastor who was up to their standards.

The book, however, is a good one. But while I didn’t pay any money for it, I wouldn’t exactly say I got it for free.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

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Zacharias Ursinus on Why only the Doctrine of the Church can Provide Satisfactory Comfort

Therefore, although philosophy, and all the various sects, enquire after and promise such a good as that which affords solid comfort to man, both in life and death, yet they neither have, nor can bestow, that which is necessary to meet the demands of our moral nature. It is only the doctrine of the church that presents such a good, and that imparts a comfort that quiets, and satisfies the conscience; for it alone uncovers the fountain of all the miseries to which the human race is subject, and reveals the only way of escape through Christ. This, therefore, is that Christian comfort, spoken of in this question of the catechism, which is an only and solid comfort, both in life and death—a comfort consisting in the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God, by and on account of Christ, and a certain expectation of eternal life, impressed upon the heart by the holy Spirit through the gospel, so that we have no doubt but that we are the property of Christ, and are beloved of God for his sake, and saved forever, according to the declaration of the Apostle Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,” &c. (Rom. 8:35.)[1]

[1] Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 18.

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Is it the person or is it the organization?

Any church can have a pastor or pastoral staff member who fails morally. This is simply a sad reality. But when a church or religious organization has person after person in leadership positions with moral failures (some of them repeated moral failures), you eventually have to ask, “What is it about this church or this organization that breeds this type of behavior?” At some point the problem is not personal but systemic and institutional and the church has to address it as such.

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