Friday evening (4/13/07)
General Session #5
C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”
GAITHERSBURG, MD – The year 2007 will be remembered as an important year in the careful study of John Owen’s theology. With the recent release of Kelly Kapic’s Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Baker: 2007) and the forthcoming release of Crossway’s retypeset edition of Owen’s Communion with the Triune God, I anticipate an increasingly balanced awareness of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This beautiful Trinitarian balance of Owen was echoed and applied pastorally by C.J. Mahaney in the concluding address of the 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference.
Mahaney began by cautioning pastors from allowing culture to define the model of ministry. The form and substance of pastoral ministry is defined by the character and work of the Triune God. The character and work of the Triune Godhead is displayed in the final verse of 2 Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:14). Mahaney detailed each character and work of the Three Persons of the Godhead. The order here (Son, Father, Holy Spirit) seems to be ordered by our experience of Him.
“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”
We first meet Christ. The Cross comes first. Paul never assumes the Gospel even up until the very last verse of 2 Corinthians. For Paul, everything comes back to the Gospel.
But to proclaim the grace of the Cross means we must proclaim sin. Proclaiming sin well – without concealing grace – takes a lot of work. Exposing sin is much easier than applying grace and exposing sin should never be done by men who cannot rightly apply grace. Grace is the message applied to sin. We can never take our eyes of Calvary. Once we lose sight of Calvary, we miss our path. In every sermon there will be a sighting of Calvary. That is Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians even as he confronts sin.
“The Love of God”
Secondly, the work of pastoral ministry is to convince others of God’s love, specifically God’s personal love for His children. Verbally and passionately position others to experience the Father’s love personally. Several other passages show the love of God in the salvation of sinners, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) … “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1) … “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). The love of God is displayed in the Cross and in adopting sinners into His family!
It was the Father’s love that motivated the Cross. Christ died because God loved us! God initiated the Cross out of love. Sinclair Ferguson says, “We should almost think God loved us more than He loves His Son.” God persuades us of His love in the Cross.
To be right with God (justified) is a great thing, so too is being adopted by God the Father. Read Sinclair Ferguson’s Children of the Living God, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God (on adoption) and Trevor Burke’s Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor.
How do I leave my people on Sunday? Do they walk away with a deep sense of God’s love towards them?
“The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”
There is a life of participation with the Holy Spirit. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit and so we pursue His presence and His power with eagerness. We are called to grow, desire and pursue the power of the Holy Spirit as governed by the authority of Scripture. There is a tremendous breadth and diversity of this fellowship.
(It was at this point C.J. explained why he prefers the term “continuist” over “charismatic”). The power of the Holy Spirit is broader than the miraculous. We should understand the Holy Spirit in this broad diversity. In the Corinthian church, as evidenced in the two Pauline letters, there was a minimizing of some of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Corinthians held a fascination with the gift of tongues. And so on the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:29 Paul places tongues last on the list of gifts. The spectacular does not happen every day and because of this we need to avoid the Corinthian error of being fascinated with some gifts and the minimizing of others. We need to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in its broad diversity without exaggerating the significance of one particular gift.
It’s important to become more perceptive to the work of the Holy Spirit in this diversity. For example, there is a proneness to placing authority in the prophetic gifts over Scripture. Beware of emphasizing one gift at the exclusion of the others.
The ultimate priority of the Holy Spirit’s work is to reveal the Savior and the blessings of the Gospel! The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be understood apart from the message of the Cross. As D.A. Carson writes, “To be spiritual is profoundly tied to the Cross.”
This final message from the Leader’s Conference left us with much for further meditation. The encouragement to work at presenting the Father in His love is a good challenge. It is easy to display God solely in His holy vengeance, so that for the Christian to think of Him as a loving, tender Father becomes (practically speaking) a foreign concept. I need to let my adoption by God capture more of my affection and experience, like the doctrine of justification has in the past. Mahaney’s statement that ‘exposing sin is much easier than applying grace, and exposing sin should never be done by men who cannot rightly apply grace’ continues to echo in my thoughts. It is a true statement and very humbling for this aspiring preacher. This message was a great challenge to define pastoral ministry within the balanced context of God’s Triunity.
I’m not sure who talks faster, C.J. or John Moschitta, so to get the full details I would once again suggest this message from the 2007 Sovereign Grace Leader’s Conference as worthy the sacrifice of a venti Americano.
Overall, the conference was an incredible experience. The content and structure of the breakout sessions and the general sessions were excellent. And to spend three nights being led in worship by Bob Kauflin, singing songs like “Before the Throne,” was certainly a glimpse into the eternal worship around the throne of the Lamb! Speaking of heavenly things, the bookstore was well-stocked and efficiently run. The conference carried an excellent blend of Bibles, theology, pastoral counseling, biography, children’s books and music. For me personally, the conference provided a great opportunity to grow closer to our friends who also traveled from Minneapolis and to see the generousness and loving care our church in Minneapolis continues to pour out on my wife and family! I can summarize the words of others, but trying to summarize the experience of the conference is really not possible. Thanks for reading the updates! -Tony
Related 2007 SGM LC sessions: