I am very grateful for the week I spent in Owensboro, Kentucky teaching at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies. Dean Sam Waldron and his assistant, Richard Barcellos, as well as the pastors and members of Heritage Baptist Church (who house the center) were very hospitable. The students were very encouraging and attentive and hung in there very well for the grueling schedule which is inevitably almost a test of endurance.
One of my firm convictions is that pastoral ministry must be centered on the gospel. All preaching, ministering and living must be founded on and flow out of what God has given us and done for us in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I am asked why we don’t advertise our church as a “Reformed” Baptist church and why, even though we are affiliated with the SBC, we don’t make a bigger deal of that. I always give the same answer. I really have no desire for Grace Baptist Church to be known as as “Southern Baptist” or “Reformed.” Rather, I would love for us to be known as “Christ-saturated.” My desire for my own life and for the lives of the people who constitute the family of Grace is that we would genuinely be permeated in every dimension of our thinking and living with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I think I see this the Scriptures and I want to press forward to experience it more and more.
What this means for me is this: the doctrines of grace are not ultimate, Christ is. Calvinism is not the pinnacle, Christ is. The SBC is not most important, Christ is. I realize that I am not saying anything that others would deny, but I feel compelled to say and remind myself of these things regularly. So much of my identity, whether I like it or not, is bound up with my commitment to “that exalted system of Pauline theology” that is known as Calvinism. But I am a Calvinist precisely because I am committed to the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life.
I tried to make this point in the lectures last week on pastoral theology. In doing so I read to the class the following quote from Charles Spurgeon. He precisely expresses the sentiments of my own heart on this matter. The quote comes from his sermon, “Christ Lifted Up.” It is found in volume 3 (p. 260) of the New Park Street Pulpit.
Again, the theme of a minister should be Christ Jesus in opposition to mere doctrine. Some of my good brethren are always preaching doctrine. Well, they are right in so doing, but I would not care myself to have as the characteristic of my preaching, doctrine only. I would rather have it said, “He dwelt much upon the person of Christ, and seemed best pleased when he began to tell about the atonement and the sacrifice. He was not ashamed of the doctrines, he was not afraid of threatening, but he seemed as if he preached the threatening with tears in his eyes, and the doctrine solemnly as God’s own word; but when he preached of Jesus his tongue was loosed, and his heart was at liberty.” Brethren, there are some men who preach the doctrine only, who are an injury, I believe, to God’s church rather than a benefit. I know of men who have set themselves up as umpires over all spirits. They are the men. Wisdom will die with them. If they were once taken away the great standard of truth would be removed. We do not wonder that they hate the Pope, two of a trade never agree, for they are far more popish than he, they being themselves infallible. I am afraid that very much of the soundness of this age, is but a mere sound, and is not real; does not enter into the core of the heart, nor affect the being. Brethren, we should rather preach Christ than election. We love election, we love predestination, we love the great doctrines of God’s word, but we had rather preach Christ than preach these. We desire to put Christ over the head of the doctrine, we make the doctrine the throne for Christ to sit on, but we dare not put Christ at the bottom, and then press him down, and overload him with the doctrines of his own word.