luther-hammers-the-95-theses-to-the-church-door-of-wittenberg_crop0Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But is “celebrate” the appropriate word? Is that really the tone our commemoration should take? It seems rather like a woman celebrating the 10th anniversary of her divorce. One understands the reason for the celebration, but it still seems somehow distasteful–rejoicing in the dissolution of what God had joined together. It’s distasteful even if the woman had solid Biblical grounds for her divorce, just as we had solid Biblical grounds for separating from the Roman church. It’s distasteful even if the woman’s husband was despotic, abusive, and corrupt. The Roman church was all those things. You’ll never hear me claim otherwise. But I can’t rejoice in the memory of the awful day when those troubles began coming to a head.

In particular, can we rejoice with the divorced woman when she’s had an endless string of lovers since the split but she never remarried? Isn’t that what we’re like in the Protestant “church”? The Church had already split, East from West, in 1054. (And God forbid that we should rejoice on the anniversary of that day any more than we should rejoice on this one.) But the Reformation was not a split. The Reformation did not produce an undivided communion, united in their exile, seeking God as one body of Christ in the unity of the one Spirit. The Reformation did not simply split the Church into three as the 1054 Schism had split it into two. The Reformation shattered the Church. We splintered into hundreds of tiny pieces, unable to come together under a single creed and government. We became the Humpty Dumpty of the Christian world. 500 years have gone by, and no one has been able to put us together again. Instead, we have created thousands more and even tinier pieces. We did not merely separate from the Roman church. We separated, endlessly, from one another. How can anyone, considering these results, claim that the Reformation was a success? No, I will not rejoice on this day.

I am grateful for the many things I have learned from the Protestant Reformers and from that theological stream. I am deeply grateful for and committed to Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. I revel in Luther’s recovery of Augustine’s proclamation of Paul’s doctrine of “the righteousness of God.” I laud Calvin for his majestic display of God’s grace and sovereignty. Reformation theology clearly proclaims (with the New Testament, with Christ) that salvation is not a joint effort between me and God. This lifts burdens that I could not bear and that no one can bear. Without this understanding, no one can truly pursue sanctification because they are still trying to justify themselves. I will continue to rejoice in these truths, surely. But I will also mourn the disunity of those who proclaimed them. I will mourn the movement that taught me the Gospel and disintegrated the Church.

Jesus prayed that we all would be one that the world might know that he had been sent by the Father. For 500 years (or 963 or more) we have been living in the shadow of that prayer’s contrapositive. We are not one; therefore the world does not know that Jesus has been sent by the Father. How can we rejoice over the day that began the worst schism the Church has ever known?

Today, let Protestants mourn as we consider how completely we have fractured the body of Christ. Let us commit ourselves to that prayer for unity made on earth by our high priest who is now in heaven. Let us learn to be as promiscuous as the Holy Spirit who demonstrably pours himself out on people and groups that we wouldn’t allow in our pulpits or even sometimes our pews.

Today, let Roman Catholics mourn and consider how justified was the Protestant departure. Humble yourselves, you who love the Lord, and confess where you are helping to keep the Church divided. Let the Pope humble himself and become once again the bishop of Rome. Repeal the Council of Trent by which you tell me I am damned for believing the precious doctrine of justification by faith alone. This, above all, must happen before you and I can be part of a unified body of Christ.

Today, let the Eastern Orthodox mourn. If you’re an Orthodox believer you may have read the previous two paragraphs with a great deal of smugness. How thankful you are not to be part of the West with its endless divisions and wranglings! May I suggest that this response might be the tip of an iceberg of sinful pride? Have you become like the Pharisee in the parable, thanking God that you are not like that tax collector? Luke tells us that this is the attitude of those who think they are righteous in themselves. Turn and pray with your hearts the prayer that your lips already know, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then you will be in a frame of mind to seek reunion with us, for we too have the Spirit.

Let us soberly and sombrely reflect on all these things this Reformation Day. And let us desire together that the Church, which has been un-formed, should soon and truly be RE-formed as the one body of the risen Christ. On THAT Reformation Day I will rejoice. Amen.

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Again for those of you following Lectionary A, here’s an outline of a sermon I preached on The Beatitudes. HTML is useless for an outline format, so I’m attaching a Word Doc and a PDF.

matthew-5-1-12-sermon-doc

matthew-5-1-12-sermon-pdf

Lectionary A for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany calls for a Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, aka The Beatitudes. Here’s an orientation sermon I preached on the subject years ago.

 


 

Everything about the life of Jesus has prepared you for this moment. Born to humble parents in Bethlehem, which Micah called the least of the cities of Judah. Yet Matthew changes Micah’s prophecy so that it now says, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are NOT the least among the rulers of Judah, For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd my people Israel.” There it is. The nature of this ruler, of this king. Weak and of no account in the eyes of men, yet full of power and great in the eyes of God.

As the king is, so is his kingdom.

He was rejected by his own at birth. By the chief priests and the scribes who did not even come to investigate when wise men from the east spoke of his birth. By Herod who hunted him in order to put him to death. From the beginning he is persecuted because of who he is, the righteous one.

As the king is, so is his kingdom.

He did not dwell in Jerusalem but in an insignificant city called Nazareth. He was called a Nazarene; that is, he was called a nobody. Nazareth, the insignificant city, was in southern Galilee. Matthew reminds us that Isaiah called it “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Why would anyone important, let alone God’s Messiah live in such a place? Jesus would grow up and remain a nobody, except to those with spiritual eyes to discern his true greatness.

As the king is, so is his kingdom.

He is poor in spirit. He mourns as one who suffers. He is meek and lowly of heart. He hungers and thirsts to establish righteousness in the earth. He is merciful, pure in heart, and seeks to make peace between God and his people; yet for that reason he is persecuted as the prophets before him and must look to heaven for his reward.

As the king is, so is his kingdom.

This is the purpose of this Sermon on the Mount. To present the ethics and the power of this new kingdom being brought in by this radically different king. Strength in weakness. Exaltation in humility. Blessedness in spite of, even because of, suffering. The people around him have never heard anything like it.

He goes up on the mountain to teach them, to proclaim to them the path to blessedness before God. Who can help thinking of another ruler of Israel who went up on a mountain to proclaim the word of God? Who can help thinking of Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, who went up on the mountain to receive the word of God and to proclaim it to the people?

Yet the two events are as different as they are similar. When Moses went up on the mountain, the people dared not follow him. They heard the voice of God giving the ten commandments from the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness. And they were afraid. “This great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have and lived? You go near and hear all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.” So Moses went up the mountain alone, to hear the word of God and to bring it back to a terrified people.

How different is the present situation! Jesus, a better mediator than Moses, goes up on the mountain … and he brings his people with him! Here he is, Emmanuel, “God with us,” about to proclaim the very word of God from the mountain. And the people are not afraid to draw close to him and hang on his every word.

Likewise, the words of blessing Jesus pronounces are vastly different from, and vastly superior to the words of blessing brought in under Moses. For what blessings did Moses pronounce but blessings upon perfect obedience? “Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which he swore to your fathers. And he will love you and bless you….” And surely we must concur with that judgment. The perfectly obedient OUGHT to be blessed. God would be monstrously unjust if he did otherwise. But this knowledge is of cold comfort to a sinful people. They cannot possibly offer the required obedience and so partake of the promised blessings.

This response to the Law is far from improper. Indeed, the Law was given precisely to induce this response. The Law was given, Paul says, to INCREASE transgressions. In that way the people of God would be forced to come to grips with their own unworthiness before God and to cry out for a Savior. The Law was their schoolmaster to drive them to Christ.

So those who lack perfect obedience cry out to God in anguish. They confess that they have no claim upon or right to citizenship in God’s kingdom but must depend on his grace. They mourn over their miserable condition and have no hope but that God may lift them up. They are meek; they lay no claim to dwell in God’s presence but throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord. They hunger and thirst for a righteousness they do not have and without which they cannot stand before the Lord.

And what does Jesus come to tell them? You are blessed. BLESSED!! Can you imagine it? The blessing that God through Moses offered to those who had perfect obedience … now through Jesus he offers it to those who have nothing. On one condition only: that they confess that they have nothing. They lay no claim to the kingdom, yet theirs it is! They mourn because they are cursed and their world is cursed and God comforts them! They do not think of themselves as those who may dwell in the presence of God, and God says they shall inherit the land. That means they will dwell in his presence forever! They hunger and thirst for what they do not have, for righteousness … and they are satisfied!

Suddenly, as Geerhardus Vos says, “The consciousness of having nothing, absolutely nothing, is the certain pledge of untold enrichment.”

To those who hear these words, this is good news. Good beyond hope. It is also surprising news. After all, when God pronounced his blessing on the perfectly obedient, that was perfectly understandable. As we said, God would be unjust to do otherwise. But THIS blessing. What is its basis? Where does it come from?

This blessing is a thing of pure grace. Unmerited favor. No! More than that. Favor to those who have deserved the OPPOSITE. Jesus is introducing a kingdom whose foundation is the free and total grace of the living God. The ethics of this kingdom, the “law” of this kingdom if you will, must then conform utterly to the grace of God. It is this kingdom for which the kingdom of God under Moses was preparing and in which the kingdom of God under Moses is fulfilled. The people under the Law hungered and thirsted for this kingdom of righteousness. Now Jesus is satisfying their hunger. This, he says, is what a kingdom founded on, filled with, and empowered by grace will look like.

The people of this kingdom will begin with the knowledge and the confession that they are nothing and that they have nothing. Thus shall they show themselves fit recipients of the grace of God. For who can boast in such circumstances as though he has earned anything? Will they boast, “I am better than others because I came to understand how wretched and miserable I am. That is why God blessed me”? What a ridiculous boast! Will they not rather say, “The Law of God revealed to me how wretched and miserable I am, and the grace of God saved me in spite of that” and all the glory shall go to God. To be saved by grace says nothing good about you and everything good about God. The kingdom founded on grace must have as citizens those who have been taught their own poverty and thus the magnitude of God’s favor in saying to them “Blessed are you.”

And the citizens of a kingdom founded on grace will also go on to express that grace to one another and to the whole world. They will be merciful, for they have obtained mercy. Their hearts will be purified that they may see God. They will seek to make peace, for God, their great enemy, has made peace with them.

One other difference is remarkable between the old, shadowy, provisional kingdom under Moses and the new, consummate, eternal kingdom of God in Christ.

What blessing does God pronounce on the obedient in the Law? “he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock. The Lord will turn away from you every illness; all the dread diseases of Egypt that you experienced, he will not inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. You shall devour all the peoples that the Lord your God is giving over to you, showing them no pity.”

There are the blessings! Riches that the eye can see and the hand can handle and the tongue can taste! But now Jesus pronounces a blessing on the poor, the downtrodden, the meek, the lowly, those who are of no account, who do not appear to triumph over their enemies but are persecuted and reviled by them. In what sense are they “blessed”? Clearly not in an earthly material sense. But there reward IN HEAVEN, Jesus says, is great indeed. And that shall be revealed at the last day.

Yet Jesus does not for that reason say, “Blessed WILL be” all these people, but “Blessed ARE” they. The blessedness that is given is theirs to partake of immediately, even as they wait with eager longing for the day when their blessedness is revealed. To quote Vos again “It is blessedness that is promised here, and the word does not so much signify a state of mind, as that great realm of consummation and satisfaction, which renders man’s existence, once he has entered into it, serene and secure for evermore.” In other words, “blessed” here doesn’t mean “happy”. Don’t believe that translation! “Happy” doesn’t go nearly far enough. “Blessed” means “eternally secure”, “having everything you need.” Those who realize they have nothing have just become those who have everything and can never lose it.

The blessings of the Mosaic kingdom were visible, material, external, and lasted only until death. The blessings of the new kingdom are invisible (though clearly seen by faith), heavenly, spiritual, and eternal.

So these are the things we will be looking for and finding as we explore this Sermon on the Mount.

We will look for a kingdom founded on grace, whose people are blessed not because of their merit but because of the kindness and grace of God. Thus we will see citizens of this kingdom in chapter 7 who do not have but they ask and it is given to them; they do not possess but they seek and so they find; they do not have the power to open the gates of heaven, but they knock and the doors are opened.

We will look for a kingdom whose citizens reflect the grace of God and so are further blessed. They will not judge for they themselves have not been judged. But rather they will forgive men their trespasses for their heavenly Father has forgiven them.

And we will look for a spiritual, heavenly, eternal kingdom. Thus, the citizens of this kingdom will not lay up treasure on earth but in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. And being already supremely blessed they will not worry but will seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything they need will be given to them.

For you Anglican types, Lectionary A schedules a reading from Matthew 3:13-17 this Sunday. Here are my thoughts, especially if you’re preparing to preach on this text:

1. Karl Barth described this event as “the Great Sinner repenting”. That’s an awesome phrase. It’s shocking in just the right way. John the Baptist is shocked by Jesus’ request, but we aren’t. It’s too familiar. We need to be shocked. Why is the Sinless One seeking John’s baptism, the “baptism of repentance”?

2. This is the opening bookend to Jesus’ ministry. The closing bookend is his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus later refers to his crucifixion as a baptism he must undergo. So he goes to the cross bearing the sin of his people. The judgment of God closes over his head. He goes down into the grave (not into heaven above or the earth beneath, but into the water under the earth, if we’re using the threefold division of Ex 20.4.). He rises up again. The Spirit rests upon him and becomes his gift. He is declared to be the Son of God with power, vindicated as the sinless one with whom the Father is well-pleased. He is exalted to God’s right hand.

This observation seems central and essential to understanding the passage. I am shocked that none of my commentaries so much as mentions it.

3. Lots of echos of creation/re-creation in this passage

  • Gen 1 – Spirit hovering like a dove over the waters waiting for creation to be made habitable, a place for Adam, made in God’s image, to build God’s temple.
  • The Flood – First the uncreation–waters brought together horizontally (over land) and vertically (waters above meet waters below). The judgment waters destroy the world that then was while simultaneously saving Noah and his family. Then the recreation, the division of the waters. Then the dove announcing the new creation.
  • Crossing the Red Sea – Paul tells us this was a baptism event. It’s also the creation/confirmation of Israel as the son of God (see Ex 4:22 and Hos 11:1). On the far side of the sea, the Spirit rests on his people as a cloud and a pillar of fire. The judgment waters destroy Israel’s enemies while simultaneously saving Israel.
  • Baptism of Jesus – Jesus goes down into the judgment waters bearing sin. He comes up cleansed, purified. The Spirit rests upon him and he is declared to be the Son of God. When you connect it to Noah and to the crucifixion/resurrection as above, you see that Jesus is symbolically coming into a new creation where sin is defeated and righteousness dwells.

4. Matthew 1 – 7 presents Jesus as simultaneously the new Moses and the new Israel.

  • Chapter 1 – “The book of the genealogy” echoes the repeated line from Genesis translated as “These are the generations.” That phrase functions as a chapter heading in Genesis, marking off the major events in the lines of the Serpent’s seed and the Woman’s. The last time it occurs is when introducing the story of Jacob. THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT comes under the heading “These are the generations of Jacob.” You thought the next chapter began with Exodus. It didn’t. Now, at last, Matthew announces the next chapter heading. These are the generations of Jesus.
  • Chapter 2 – Jesus escapes a king who is intent on slaughtering all the Hebrew babies in his area. (Sound familiar?) He fulfils the prophecy “Out of Egypt I called my son,” a prophecy that originally referred to Israel.
  • Chapter 3 – See above on Crossing the Red Sea. The events are clearly parallel.
  • Chapter 4 – Jesus wanders in the desert and is tempted. Unlike Israel, he passes the test. He is a new and better Israel.
  • Chapters 5-7 – Jesus climbs a mountain and delivers his law. He is a new and better Moses.

Here’s a link to audio of a sermon I preached at City Church on January 23, 2011. This was just ten Sundays before we closed our doors forever. If you feel as though the world is caving in around you and you don’t know where God is, you may find this relevant.

Link to downloadable mp3 on Dropbox

Link to Soundcloud podcast

The sermon was from Psalm 46, so I’ll include the text below.

PSALM 46

To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.

[1] God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
[2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
[3] though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

[4] There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
[5] God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
[6] The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
[7] The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

[8] Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
[9] He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
[10] “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
[11] The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

 

Blessings to all of you citizens of heaven.

I last posted 11 months ago. The fatigue has grown gradually worse but may be lifting. It’s too soon to tell. We now have a more specific diagnosis–chronic mononucleosis. There’s still no cure, but at least the name sounds more respectable.

In any event, while I’ve got a bit of strength, I wanted to share with you my decision to withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. On May 14, 2008 I submitted the letter below to the Presbytery of the Central United States.

The brothers there received the letter graciously. They endeavored to persuade me to stay, even suggesting that I retain my ministerial credentials in the OPC while laboring “outside of the bounds of Presbytery” at our new church. But it seemed to me for various reasons that this was not the correct resolution. They accepted that and sent me on my way with prayer and without condemnation.

Here is the letter. The first part is fairly boring and may safely be skipped. But for those interested in the nuts and bolts of Presbyterian protocol, I leave it in. Jump down to the next section if that kind of thing bores you or drives you nuts:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From:  Bill Baldwin

To: Presbytery of the Central United States, Orthodox Presbyterian Church

RE: Withdrawal from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Dear Fathers and Brothers:

I am writing to tell you of my decision to withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I am leaving to join with a local congregation of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The ECC, while having a Reformational heritage, is not considered to be of like faith and practice with the OPC. And they do not hold ministerial credentials in the absence of a call. For those two reasons it is not possible for the Presbytery of the Central US to transfer my credentials to my new church and denomination.

Therefore, I am seeking to leave under the provisions of Book of Discipline V.2.b.(1):

  • When a minister, whether or not he be charged with an offense, informs the presbytery that he desires to renounce the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by abandoning his ministry and membership therein, or by declaring himself independent, or by joining another body without a regular dismission, the presbytery shall seek to dissuade him from his course, and, if these efforts fail, it shall erase his name from its roll and record the circumstances in its minutes unless the presbytery institutes or continues disciplinary action.

That is to say, I am not seeking to demit the ministry or be divested from office (though an erasure will necessarily remove the only formal ministerial credentials I possess). I am asking Presbytery to dismiss me, perhaps even with its blessing, noting the irregular circumstances in its minutes.

The Book of Discipline instructs us that Presbytery must “seek to dissuade [me] from [my] course.” I am willing to meet with the presbytery for that purpose either at the May 2008 stated meeting or at another time. In the circumstances, I do not feel it would be appropriate for me to deliberate with the presbytery in other matters while waiting for that meeting. I have cleared my schedule for May 17, 2008. If someone from Presbytery could call me at [phone number] and tell me when to appear, I can arrive as soon as half an hour after that phone call. The presbytery may then meet with me at that time or we can put our calendars together and choose another time.

Ok, enough of procedural matters. The rest of the letter below deals with the substance.

Meanwhile, let me explain as briefly as I can, where I’m going and what thoughts have led me there.

Since mid-January, my family and I have been attending City Church in Kansas City, MO. We have been warmly received. There appears to be a place for us and for our gifts there.

City Church, as I say, is a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The ECC has a brief statement of faith that is acceptable to me. It is in the tradition of apostolic, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Reformational Christianity. But it is not nearly as detailed as the Westminster Standards. This fits in with a growing desire I’ve had to re-connect with Bible-believing Christians with whom I agree concerning the essentials while allowing for charitable disagreement in other matters.

The ECC web site makes the following statement: “We are a Reformation church, a part of the Church universal, and an evangelical church. In that heritage, we share certain central beliefs, which draw us together in faith and fellowship and make possible a freedom among us on more widely ranging issues.”

Organizationally, ECCs are not as tightly run as Presbyterian churches. The church does have a board which functions something like a session and a Mutual Ministry Committee that functions something like a diaconate. Leaders from various congregations meet together in regional “conferences” and as a whole denomination , but these groups do not exercise the same level of authority that Presbyteries and the General Assembly do.

There are two other differences that Presbytery may find of particular note. ECC policy stipulates that pastors must be willing to perform both infant baptism and believer’s baptism. This is a policy I can live with. It seems to me a better choice than dividing from other believers when those believers do not recognize the Biblical reasons for baptizing our children. And it is certainly better than forcing infant baptism on parents who cannot participate in good faith and conscience.

The second difference is that the ECC will ordain women as pastors. I have not changed my position on this matter. I continue to believe that Scripture counsels against this action. But as I have re-evaluated my priorities, I find that other errors of belief and practice, and other ecclesiastical attitudes trouble me more. Since there is no perfect visible church to join, we must evaluate each imperfection scripturally and proceed from there.

So what has prompted me to trade the imperfections of Reformed and Presbyterian churches for the imperfections of the ECC?

Well, first, there just doesn’t seem to be a place for me in the Reformed and Presbyterian circle of churches. If I had found a place, I would probably have chosen to stay and help address whatever imperfections I saw (and have my own imperfections addressed in turn).  I have spent the last 5 years off and on searching for a ministerial call in a Reformed church. There have been several interested churches in the OPC, PCA, and URC. But the end result has always been that a call was extended to another candidate.

In such circumstances I have naturally examined myself to see whether I may not be called to the ministry after all. My inward sense of calling remains robust. And the testimony of those who have been deeply affected by my ministry remains encouraging.

I have also examined my situation to see whether I can make any changes that would make a call more likely. There are certainly many things I would like to change about myself and about my situation. Some, such as my overall health, I can’t. Others are a matter of sanctification; the Spirit is working change in me over time. Perhaps when that work has progressed further I will find the ministerial call I seek.

Meanwhile, I think there is another part of the church that can use my gifts and skills such as they are. It is good then, and consistent with Scripture, if you can willingly send me as a gift to another part of the body of Christ.

I have benefited greatly from my time in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I value the training and the fellowship and the wisdom that I have received from OPC and PCA and URC scholars and ministers and friends. I do not leave those things behind. I bring with me to my new church a deep and satisfying Reformed, Covenant, and Biblical Theology. I trust that will continue to be a great blessing to me. I know it has already begun to be a blessing to my new church family.

I want to be honest, though, about some other reasons I have for leaving. These reasons will help you decide how you want to understand my departure and what you may want to say to me as I leave. These reasons may also give you food for thought as you remain and pursue the work of “always reforming” the Reformed church.

First, I have become concerned about what I might call “the leaven of the Pharisees” in the OPC and other Reformed churches. Please understand that I’m not saying I see absolute and pervasive Pharisaism. But I think I see a tendency and I worry that a little leaven eventually leavens the whole lump of dough. I worry that we’ve become cut off from the rest of the evangelical church in part due to some spiritual pride. I’m troubled by the condemning attitude I sometimes see in Reformed churches, both toward outsiders and toward one another. I’m concerned when we seek to prove theological points by appeal to confessional standards rather than by appeal to Scripture. And I’m distressed when we sometimes seem to pursue sanctification by Law rather than by grace alone.

Broadening that point a little, I wish I could see more Christlike love, more kindness in Reformed churches. I think we have too often lost sight of those heart attitudes in our pursuit of other goals. Here I certainly speak as one of the guilty. I need to go learn this love and kindness from others before I can teach it myself. I’d love to see Reformed churches re-connect with the rest of the body of Christ. I think we have as much to learn from them as they do from us. I’ve been putting that proposition to the test since mid-January. I haven’t been disappointed. My new congregation has a love and a kindness that takes my breath away. And I think they have that without sacrificing reverence for God or humility before his Word.

This desire for Christlike love is part of what I was alluding to when I said I’ve re-evaluated my priorities. It’s easy to run down a checklist, note that a church ordains women, and conclude that it has failed the test. But what if the checklist asks whether the people have sacrificial love and the presence of the Holy Spirit? How do you quantify that? How much of it should we be willing to give up to gain a church that doesn’t ordain women? Which question does Scripture spend far more time addressing—need for love or the ordination of women? Our tendency—and I think this is part of the leaven of the Pharisees—is to focus on the questions that have clear cut answers. The Gospel drives us instead to focus on what cannot be measured but only pursued with all our might.

Seeking that Christlike love became central in my quest for a new church. As I sought that church, I realized I was also seeking a church with less of a suburban, middle-class character. Reformed churches seem to be most comfortable serving a certain socio-economic educational class. This can make it difficult for such churches to truly serve the poor. Especially in the suburbs, it’s easy to forget that the poor exist. The suburbs exist to keep the poor at arm’s length. But a church that takes on that character becomes something less than a church, something more like a club.

Suburban churches try to address this problem in various ways. Some of them simply try to send money to the poor. Some try to make a further connection. But it’s very difficult to have the poor in your midst when you’re in the suburbs. I began to feel it was better for me to go where the poor are than to try to bring the poor where I am.

If I want to go where the poor are, I don’t have a lot of Reformed and Presbyterian options. In exploring what my other options might be, I found City Church. My new church is about half black and half white. The people are from various economic and social backgrounds. It looks gloriously like the kingdom of heaven.

My new church is also a praying church. This is something I need as well. I find that I have not believed in the power of prayer nearly as much as I ought. Being among those who do believe has refreshed me considerably and has helped me overcome my fatigue to attend the weekly prayer meeting.

I hope you can rejoice with me just a bit in that, even if you naturally have some concerns. I hope you can see that this move has had a salutary effect on my spiritual health. I believe this move is from the Lord. And the people at City Church believe so as well. Pastor Robert Johnson, in particular, is excited to have me there. We get together once a week to pray. I’ll be leading the worship on Sunday and will be preaching in June. The church is a blessing to me and I, I hope, will be a blessing to them.

Let me last of all address the question of my family. The narrow question before you is what to do with me. But of course I don’t make this move alone.

Mercy, my 12-year-old daughter is the least enthusiastic. The style of worship is boisterous in a way that bothers her. People say “Amen” and “Yes, Lord” and “Hallelujah” all too frequently for her tastes. Also, she has not been able to find close friends. She would prefer to go to the PCA in the suburbs where her friends have gone. So this is hard for her. But it has resulted in some good talks. I’ve explained why we are where we are. I’ve made it clear that I don’t think that other churches are bad churches or that they aren’t believers there. By God’s grace this transition will stretch my daughter’s faith, broaden her view of the kingdom, and help her focus on what is essential.

William, my almost-16-year-old son, has fit right in. He too found the boisterous worship quite different and not entirely to his taste. But he says that he has adjusted well and he really enjoys the people and the Christlike love they show. He has already begun running the sound system. I think this is stretching him as well and has been very good for him.

Lisa, my wife (age undisclosed), is enthusiastic. Before the first service was over, she was certain that this would be our new church home. There was an almost palpable presence of the Holy Spirit at that service, and at subsequent services. She was overwhelmed and immediately drawn in. (I felt the same way. But I also felt the need to express myself more cautiously and to investigate the church carefully.) Lisa continues to love our new church home.

And they continue to love her. Pastor Johnson has recognized her spiritual gift of compassion toward those who are struggling. This recognition is such a blessing to her and to me. In the past she has taken criticism for not being more like a traditional pastor’s wife. I have tried to tell the critics that they are missing the deep value that she brings to the church with her quiet compassion and words of grace. Pastor Johnson picked up on this without having to be told. It almost brings tears to my eyes writing this. It is good to have someone else confirm to my wife the great value of her gifts.

Please forgive anything in this letter that is less gracious than it ought to have been. I hope that we can part as friends who will still remember one another in prayer. I hope you can even see this as a positive move on my part, as something that comes from the Lord, however irregular the circumstances may seem.

May Christ our Savior continue to watch over us. Amen.

Bill Baldwin

I’ve been feeling the terrible chronic fatigue again since last summer. I may have over-exerted myself when we moved into this house. I’m sure the author of Ecclesiastes would have something to say about that.

Back in 2006, I presented my Ecclesiastes material as a Sunday School class once again and revised it extensively in the process. Since my web page is no more, I decided to upload the newer material to a page on my blog:

https://bettercovenant.wordpress.com/ecclesiastes/

Later on I may try to upload some sermons on Abraham from the Genesis series. Those got revised extensively in 2007.

If you’re looking for older material from my defunct web site, you can still find that via the wayback machine:

http://web.archive.org/web/20080120085723/http://bettercovenant.org/

As Joe Garrelli on the TV show NewsRadio once said: “”Dude, you can’t take something off the Internet. That’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool.”

Keep me in yor prayers if you think of it.