Philippians 1:16 declares, “and most of the brothers in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Paul’s boldness was contagious. These Christians were in Rome, the seat of power. They were directly under the shadow of Nero. Yet, stirred on by Paul’s example, they were bold in the preaching of the gospel.
What better symbol of Roman strength and power than the awe-inspiring Praetorian Guard. These were the Navy Seals of their day. These were the renowned Seal Team Six. So powerful were they that the Caesars feared a military coup by them at any time. Ironic, since the Praetorian Guard was established to serve as the personal protection team for the Caesars in the first place.
If you want a symbol of Roman power and strength look no further than the Praetorian or Imperial Guard. We could take this one step further. It was this world of Roman power into which Christ came, in which the Apostles ministered, in which the New Testament authors wrote, and in which Christianity came into being. And to all of those things, Rome stood opposed, violently opposed.
How delightfully ironic, in light of all of this, are the words of Paul in Philippians 1:12-13:
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.
We can take this one step further still. Paul himself is a delightful gospel irony. I suspect any early Christian would shudder at the mere mention of the name Saul. In fact, they precisely did. And yet the gospel penetrated Paul’s stone-cold heart. Paul’s rage-filled eyes were opened to the truth, beauty, and joy of the gospel.
You Might also like
By Brad Horton — 1 year ago
If you have been a pastor for any length of time, you know the traditions of a church can create some tension. The key to managing these traditions is making a wise assessment—do they elevate above the commands of God? Often, they do not, but in some cases, they do. A rural church will often have traditions handed down by generations of men, and the current generation does not even know why they do it.
Jesus asked many questions. One was asked of the Pharisees concerning their traditions: “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:3)? Tradition can exist in churches of all sizes, whether rural, city center, or suburban. The “we’ve always done it this way” crowd generally exists in smaller churches and is often deep in family ties. Tradition is not evil in and of itself. Defined, it means “something given or handed down over an extended period of time.” According to Mounce’s Expository Dictionary, “paradosis refers to keeping the traditions of men with the ultimate effect of disobeying the commands of God” (Matt. 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13).
When referring to his traditions as he was being schooled in Judaism, Paul said in Galatians 1:13,14,
And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased.
The Pharisees had a niche for adding to the law and elevating it above Scripture. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:8,
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Not all tradition is bad. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 states,
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
Likewise, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 says
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
It appears that whatever these traditions were, they were spiritually beneficial and did not exceed the authority of Scripture.
By Larry Hoop — 1 year ago
As part of MOP’s responsibility “to make clear to the broader Church the errors that were identified in Presbytery’s various investigations” — and the steps it is taking “to fulfill its responsibilities to protect the peace and purity of the broader Church . . . in light of these errors,” … the following documents are posted which report the results of the hearing.
On Tuesday evening, June 14, Missouri Presbytery (MOP) held a second hearing concerning its actions regarding Memorial Presbyterian Church’s involvement with the Revoice conference it hosted in 2018. The hearing was directed by the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) in Case 2020-05.
The Presbytery’s Report
As part of MOP’s responsibility “to make clear to the broader Church the errors that were identified in Presbytery’s various investigations” — and the steps it is taking “to fulfill its responsibilities to protect the peace and purity of the broader Church . . . in light of these errors,” — MOP has asked byFaith, the official communication organ of the PCA, to post the following documents which report the results of the hearing: a cover letter; restating the SJC Amends and the Standard of Review Now Expected of the MOP; and Amended Theological Judgments.
These documents may be accessed here.
The first Revoice conference, held in July 2018 at Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, generated controversy in the evangelical community, and especially in the PCA. Ultimately, three matters related to Memorial’s hosting Revoice came before the SJC, the body responsible for handling matters related to judicial process that make their way to the General Assembly (GA):
A complaint filed by Teaching Elder (TE) Ryan Speck contended that MOP should have found a “strong presumption” that TE Greg Johnson, pastor of Memorial, was guilty of four allegations raised against him and should have held an ecclesiastical trial and, if warranted, impose censure (SJC Judicial Case 2020-12).
A second complaint, also filed by TE Speck, charged MOP with error in approving six theological judgments concerning Revoice and Memorial’s involvement with the Conference, as well as a couple of other matters (SJC Judicial Case 2020-05).
Overtures from three presbyteries invoking a “Book of Church Order” (BCO) provisionthat allows any two presbyteries to ask the GA to assume original jurisdiction (the right of a court to hear a case for the first time) when a presbytery refuses to act “in doctrinal cases or cases of public scandal” (BCO 34-1). The three presbyteries alleged that MOP had refused to act by failing to bring TE Johnson to trial.
The full SJC heard Judicial Case 2020-12 in March 2021, and rendered its judgment, denying the complaint at its fall meeting the following October. An explanation of that decision may be found here. The SJC reached a final decision about the Case 2020-05 and the three overtures at its spring 2022 meeting on March 3, 2022. In Case 2020-05, the SJC sustained a portion of the complaint (the complete text of the decision may be found here). The SJC answered the overtures from the three presbyteries by reference to its decisions in cases 2020-05 and 2020-12.
The SJC identified three issues raised by the complaint, and sustained one of them: “At its December 7, 2019, called meeting, did Missouri Presbytery (MOP) err in approving six theological judgments (specifically, Judgments # 1-5 and #9) recommended by the Committee to Investigate Memorial?” The SJC answered “yes, ” particularly with regard to theological judgments 2, 3, and 5.
The heart of MOP’s error identified by the SJC was the criteria the presbytery used in adjudicating the allegations presented within the complaint. The SJC determined that MOP improperly applied a standard used in a case against a teaching elder (BCO 34-5) rather than provisions dealing with the responsibilities of church courts (BCO 11-3, 4 and at BCO 13-9(f)). A more comprehensive explanation of the SJC’s rationale for this conclusion as well as its decision as a whole may be found here.
BCO 43-10 says that when a higher court has sustained a complaint (or any part of it) against a lower court, it “has power, in its discretion, to annul the whole or any part of the action of a lower court against which complaint has been made, or to send the matter back to the lower court with instructions for a new hearing.”
In Case 2020-05, the SJC instructed MOP to “hold a new hearing” that would focus on the following matters: “What steps must MOP take to make clear to the broader Church the errors that were identified in Presbytery’s various investigations with regard to some of the teachings at Revoice 18, particularly with regard to Theological Judgments 2, 3, and 5, and what steps must MOP take to fulfill its responsibilities to protect the peace and purity of the broader Church under BCO 11-3, 11-4, and 13-9f in light of those errors?” The SJC encouraged MOP to consider “how specific statements of some speakers at Revoice 18 may have differed from the propositions of the report of the GA’s Ad Interim Committee on Sexuality.” It was this hearing that MOP held on June 14.
By Andrew Brunson — 11 months ago
We don’t know how, when, or even if our difficulties will end. And this uncertainty tests our hearts. Some people have said to me that the main narrative of my imprisonment was trusting God. I’m not sure about that. Often when we talk about trust, we link it to an outcome. But I couldn’t find any verse that said, “Andrew will get out of prison.”
During difficult times, a real danger for the Christian is to become offended at God. I struggled with this. In fact, I came close to losing my friendship with God. My imprisonment, the isolation, the loneliness, the fear that I would never be with my family again — all these were difficult, but I understood intellectually that this was persecution. I didn’t like it, but I understood it to some degree.
What I could not understand was that during my imprisonment, I had no sense of God’s presence. Instead of a supernatural sense of strength and joy as I expected, I lacked any sense of strength — and I had no joy. Instead, I was breaking down emotionally and physically. I was going into spiritual crisis.
For years, I had drawn close to God, especially focusing on His kind, gentle Father’s heart. But now I couldn’t discern my kind and gentle Father in any way. Now — at the most desperate time in my life — He had removed any sense of His presence.
Objectively, I can say God did not abandon me, but it felt and looked like He had. It was agony to my soul. I can see now that I had grace, but mostly it was an unfelt grace. My heart was deeply wounded, leading to doubts, anger, and accusation. I questioned God’s existence. Then I questioned His character. I knew He loved the whole world. But did He really love me?
Was He really faithful? Was He completely good and truthful? I wasn’t so sure anymore. The offense in my heart was strangling my relationship with God.
This is what Jesus warned about when He said that “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Many will turn away because they become offended at God. When something bad happens, many people become angry at God. They blame Him. “God, if You’re all-powerful and loving, why don’t You intervene? How can You let this happen?”
In the years ahead, I think we will see what happens when a nation’s leaders turn their backs on God. Believers are not under judgment, but we are embedded in a nation that is entering a period of judgment. Believers will be offended because of the intensity of their persecution and suffering. They will ask, “God, how could You let this happen to me? I’ve been an obedient son.” That’s what I said in prison.
But God intervened. At a very low point, I visualized a valley of testing — like the valley of dry bones from the Book of Ezekiel — filled with the skeletons of believers who had failed. God drove this scene into my heart. I realized I was very close to losing my friendship with God. So I made a decision. I could not do much to fight for my freedom, but I could fight for my relationship with God. I made a decision with my will — not with my emotions — and said:
“God, whatever You do or don’t do, I will follow You. If You do not let me sense Your presence, I will still follow You. If You don’t speak to me, I will still follow You. If You don’t show me Your gentleness or kindness, I will still follow You. If You leave me in prison, I will still follow You.”
Setting aside my demands and conditions for God, I determined to turn my eyes toward God. I couldn’t turn my eyes very far, but turning them even one degree toward Him rather than one degree away made all the difference in the world.
And He started to rebuild me.
I had to make this decision again and again. Every time I was in a pit, at every setback, I chose to turn toward God rather than away from Him.