Who Cares About Predestination? Six Reasons You Better Hope Your Pastor Studies, Teaches, and Cherishes Predestination, Part 1 of 2

Original Opinion Piece for Thursday, July 24 (’14)

Last week, Dale wrote about the “resistless logic” of Scripture’s teaching on predestination.  We promised an article was forthcoming on the pastoral implications of this doctrine.  Today’s article is a joint effort by Jonathan as well as guest contributor and senior pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church, Jimmy McGuire.  As a pastor of more than 40 years, he knows how vital this doctrine is to the local church and, more specifically, to a pastor trying to love and care for people in the church.  To make it less abstract, think of it this way:

When she has another miscarriage, who cares about predestination?
When he cheats on his wife, who cares about predestination?
When your son rejects the faith, who cares about predestination?

When I’m suddenly fired, who cares about predestination?
When people need to hear the “simple” Gospel, who cares about predestination?
When I hear I’ll never walk again, or have cancer, who cares about predestination?

The list of questions is as endless as the thorns and thistles in an untamed southern forest: everywhere, constant, and painful.  We assert—as strongly as we can—that without the doctrine of predestination as understood in many historic denominations, answers to these questions have little chance of giving lasting hope, will hurt a believer’s ability to grieve with hope, and diminish our 0721_trusttrust in God who claims to love us.  Put another way: the more thoroughly predestination is embraced, the more confident a pastor can be in times of existential crises and the more trusting hurting Christians can be in their Heavenly Father who loves them and promises to care for them.

There are, then, at least six reasons you should hope your pastor studies, teaches, and cherishes this doctrine.  Three of these are in the post today; the last three will come next week in part 2.  We will conclude by applying these six reasons to the above questions which, we believe, stand as categorical examples of all our pain and suffering.

First, the doctrine of predestination reminds us that God has promised that preaching will save people from God-haters to fully devoted worshipers.  God has predestined preaching as his highway of salvation to the destination of Christ.  Even though preaching is, from the world’s point of view, utterly foolish, God has ordained—predestined—to make it effective.  Consider these few verses (there are many more; we have chosen these as beautiful examples of wonderful promises regarding preaching):

Colossians 1:28-29:
Him we proclaim (καταγγέλλομεν, a verb for preaching or making known publicly in wide dissemination), warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we might present everyone mature in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

PreachTheWord1These texts explicitly teach preaching is what God gave pastors and teachers to do, and he gave it because it would elevate him and his salvation in Christ above us and our arrogant attempts to save ourselves.  We think we’re wise.  Preaching shows we’re not.  We think we don’t need Christ.  Preaching shows we do.  We think we’re strong.  Preaching breaks us down.  A pastor who does not embrace a holistic picture of predestination could easily forget this and, if he forgets it, what will have to offer those in need?  What can he give the sick?  What does he have to say that is relevant at all?  Preaching is weakness that reveals God’s strength in Christ.  The Cross is Jesus’ death that gives us life.  The resurrection is Jesus’ life that destroys our death.  Preaching is God’s predestined means to save us.  Christians, honor those who labor at teaching and preaching among you.  This is not a command of this blog; this is a command of Christ through Paul, who was preaching when he wrote it.  You do not honor them because they are preachers, you honor them because they preach Christ, his death, and the power of his resurrection. This is not an honoring with wealth or fame, but with compassion and love (cf. Gal 6).  When a man forgets God has predestined preaching as his instrument of salvation, he has forgotten everything.  Or perhaps better, if he has forgotten these truths, whatever else he remembers is worthless and will, ultimately, profit him nothing.

Second, as an implication of the first, the doctrine of predestination, as it relates to preaching, reminds us that God has given the church pastors to preach so that Christian faith would mature.  While we could jump down a rabbit hole of tangents regarding the implications of this point (e.g., the importance of Sunday church attendance, Bible studies, submission to elders, devotions and personal study, etc.), don’t miss the main point here: It is God who said, “I’m giving you pastors as my predestined means of maturing you in faith.  Ignore them at your own peril.”  We’ll choose two texts, one from Paul and the other from Peter, to illustrate this point.  First, Ephesians 4:11-16:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

What does this have to do with hoping your pastor loves and teaches this doctrine?  Flip the question and consider: what if you didn’t know any of this, and what if your pastor didn’t either?  What if your pastor thought he didn’t matter as God’s chosen, divine instrument to engage in God’s chosen, divine means to mature God’s chosen people (again, recall Col 1:28-29)?  I can tell you exactly what would happen because we’ve seen it more than a hundred times.  One of three, or a combination of them, would occur:

1.  The pastor DIsgruntled-employeeleaves the church when he gets disgruntled or annoyed at, or by, the church.  He doesn’t view his role that importantly anyway, so why should he stick around?  It is not with much fear and weakness and trembling that he views his job.  It’s not even a “calling,” as it should be.  Instead, it’s a means to some other end.  Maybe he really liked preaching for the sake of attention, challenge, or thrill but hates meetings and hospital visitations (watch this video and try not to get nauseous).  Maybe something else was up.  Whatever his problem, it may be rooted in the fact he’s forgotten the doctrine of predestination and the implication: he is given to the church to be poured out as a drink offering through preaching and service in such a way that maybe—MAYBE—some would be saved.  Those who would be saved would be God’s children predestined to be saved through that very preaching.  The means (pastors preaching) and the end (salvation of the elect).  To be fair, we do believe it is possible for a pastor to have his calling removed in a way that is not scandalous.  While rare, we leave open the possibility that a man and his church dissolve his calling (but leave it as “rare”).

2.  The pastor “takes over” the church as a self-proclaimed leader (often he gives himself the title “bishop” or “apostle”, and his wife often gets a unique title as well, like “first lady” or “co-bishop”) and, over time, creates an environment of total dependence or awe upon the pastor.  The result is that opposition is squelched, i.e., to question the pastor is to risk serious censure.  The pastor stops being what God designed a pastor to be and, instead, becomes a champion for himself and his own celebrity.  As always comes with celebrity, his wishes—not the church’s maturation—becomes the raison d’être of the church.  Consider 2 Timothy 3’s warning.

3.  The church itself—perhaps not so much the pastor—pushes the pastor into the roll of “visionary” or CEO or COO.  They stop seeking their own maturation and growth in holiness and want a “leader to take them somewhere.”  You’ll hear questions like, “Pastor, what are we doing?” or “Where are we going?” or “Why can’t we be more like that church (which, by the way, is almost always the numerically superior megachurch down the street)?”.  The congregation, essentially, no longer cares about what God cares about: growth in holiness via the simple and very foolish means of preaching about Christ and him crucified, and instead, cares about becoming something else than they are already: God’s bride, chosen for holy livingIn still other words, they want to become like some other church rather than what God has predestined her/the church to become.  This is insidious, and it is horribly easy for a church to do when she ignores the doctrine of predestination, forgetting just what it is God has saved them to become.  Predestination isn’t just a key that opens a door.  It supports the entire house.  We were predestined to be transformed….Having thus been predestined, do we want to say God has not predestined the means of on-time arrival?

attachmentHaving a pastor who understands this doctrine is not an automatic elixir of protection, but it goes a long way since that pastor will tend to keep the main things main.  After all, if you believe God has a plan for all things for all times and in all places, you’ll likely not ignore what that plan is or the means God has predestined to get there.  You’ll tend to embrace them. Who wants to fight God?  Not I, sayeth the fly.

We said we’d highlight two texts, with the first being the above from Ephesians 4.  The second is a bit shorter and from Peter (1 Pet 5):

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Few quick points.  “Exhort the elders….”  “Elder” here is the same group of people referred to as “pastors and teachers” in Ephesians 4.  They are, then, a group of men called to the task of preaching, and they use the Word in whatever they do, including pastoral visitation/shepherding/”exercising oversight”.  It is a big job.  A big calling.  And it is to be done willingly with joy.  Again, contrast this with the video of the nauseating pastor….

As a preacher, I’m always stunned how easily people think preaching is and/or the overall task of shepherding people.  Throw in an introverted pastor and you don’t have Apollo 11; you have Apollo 13.

People talk about how we can preach “so easily” or “so well” or “with such talent and gifting.”  The truth is quite far away.  It is not easy; we know how much we leave out, or stumble in the midst of a sermon, even if others do not. We feel physical discomfort and nausea at the thought of the pulpit, and sometimes, at the thought of visitation.  We are, in a word, terrified of this calling even while embracing it with joy.  Judgment is, after all, greater for those who preach/teach.  But preaching is designed to cut down mobile_stumbleour strength and force us to rely on his grace.  We are not like so many peddlers of the word, Paul said, but men sent from God TO PREACH!  We are jars of clay.  This is his predestined method.  Pastors must remember this or they risk stumbling like blind men.

Third, the doctrine of predestination reminds us that success in any kind of ministry is not up to us.  You cannot force conversion.  You cannot manufacture it, though plenty attempt to do so with painfully long “altar calls” using sentimental music, dimmed lighting, fog lights, aesthetics of youth and flat-out deception.  In each case, we have to ask you to consider this question: what is it about God’s choice of preaching, teaching, and evangelism that people think they must supplement with cunning ways to “get people”?  Why are spoken words to broken people not enough?  When you remember that predestination points to God at work, we can calm down—a lot—about our own work.  When we remember that it is God who will use our meager efforts, we can speak to others with great confidence.  By the way, this is a word of hope not for pastors alone, but every member of the Body of Christ who has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit for the betterment and redemption of those around you.  We can take a chill pill and realize that God, in his sovereignty, predestines all events and predestined to give us what little we think we have, then promised us he would use it.

Sometimes this is hard.  We cannot sense how our efforts are useful.

William-CowperWilliam Cowper (pronounced COO-per) lived and died in the 18th century.  He attempted suicide multiple times.  His life was one depressive abyss after another.  He rarely received hope and light out of what Jay Adams once called “the blue funk.”  Yet he wrote hymns.  Lots of them.  He spent his depressed life pouring out his soul in poetic beauty, and we still sing many of his hymns today.  He was able, in brief moments of spiritual increase, to say, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.”  I wonder how many hours Cowper spent on his knees asking for relief, yet received silence in reply!

Why would God do this?  Because the point was never Cowper to begin with, and I think he knew it even while struggling with depression.  He was a child of the King and he knew God’s sovereign hand and predestining activity.  He offered what he could though never seeing how wonderfully God would use his words to heal distant spiritual descendents.

Take heart brothers. Take heart fathers.  Trust him mothers and daughters.  Our God is a great God who gave us a Great King.  Nothing is outside his power and control, which we call his “sovereignty,” and he spends that sovereignty in predestining all things according to the counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11).  Knowing this, like Cowper, I will offer what I have and trust God with the results even if it means I will never live to see it.  Will you?

So let’s close these three off with a return to the questions above:

griefWhen she has another miscarriage, who cares about predestination?  As dark as this is, it may get darker still, yet these are not outside of God’s view or his goodness.  Bitter though it may be, the Lord of all the earth will do what is just, and he will save you in the end. He has predestined to do so.  When she cries the tears no one else sees, hiding her sadness for a tough face for the public, he sees.  Even if she cannot endure, he will, and she will taste it one day.

When he cheats on his wife, who cares about predestination?
As hopeless as this horrible betrayal is, he has predestined YOU to draw near to him, and he will not turn you away when you come to him, even if he remains silent in the shouting brokenness of the situation, even if your beloved has turned away from you.

When your son rejects the faith, who cares about predestination?
We cannot see the past from the future, the forest from the tree.  Yet God can.  Who knows yet what will become of your son?  Trust him, and trust God can overcome your own frail efforts at parenting, and let us walk this path with you, for this we were predestined to do.

When I’m suddenly fired, who cares about predestination?
Your heavenly father does see, and has predestined a Body, his Bride, the Church, to support you.  Embrace the means given to you to care for you.  You will not go hungry.  He has predestined people to support you.  This did not catch him by surprise.  Do not let your response to the situation take you away from what he has given you in the Church.

When people need to hear the “simple” Gospel, who cares about predestination?
What can we tell others in our preaching that is truly good news if it is not this: the God who offers you salvation freely by grace will also sustain you through all of the above–if he grants you walk through such darkness—and has promised that nothing will take away that salvation once it is yours.

LTWT_WHEELCHAIR_LRG-2When I hear I’ll never walk again, or have cancer, who cares about predestination?
He hasn’t just predestined your salvation now, but has promised a New Heavens and Earth where such painful, terrible effects of sin are gone. Suffer now, unimaginably so, and scream to God for relief.  But know that, as painful as it is upon pain already, your relief may not come until predestined death and new life.  Predestination does not so much provide direct relief as it does provide strength to endure.  This is, in a way, a kind of relief.

No one said any of this was easy.  It should not be in a world torn by sin and in active rebellion against the King.  However, the doctrine of predestination, especially what God has predestined, matters a great deal to Pastors and to non-pastors, to the preachers of the Word and those who take what they hear and offer it to others.  Maybe not easy, but definitely important.

Next week, the final three reasons predestination matters for all Christians.


2 thoughts on “Who Cares About Predestination? Six Reasons You Better Hope Your Pastor Studies, Teaches, and Cherishes Predestination, Part 1 of 2

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