On Lapsing Members: Coping with a Transient Culture

Re-Posted from Sept 9, 2009.

The HB has addressed the problem of “churchless evangelicals” before. This question is a little different. How should consistories/sessions address the problem of members of a congregation who simply seem to disappear as if they’ve fallen off the face of the earth? People appear before the elders (consistory or session) sometimes as those who were raised in the church or sometimes as converts to the Reformed faith from a broad evangelical background. In the former case one hopes that the covenant children of the congregation have been catechized thoroughly. In the latter case, folk  become interested in “the doctrines of grace” and go through membership class. In either case, the elders usually hear an enthusiastic profession of faith before the elders and the new members stand before the congregation and take the four membership vows:

  • First, do you declare that you love the Lord, and that you desire to serve him according to his Word–to forsake the world, to put to death your old nature, and to lead a godly life?
  • Second, do you openly accept God’s covenant promise, which has been signified and sealed to you in your baptism, and do you humbly confess that you are sinful and that you seek life not in yourselves but only in Jesus Christ your Savior?
  • Third, do you sincerely believe the doctrine contained in the Old and the New Testaments, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and taught in this Christian church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation, and do you promise by the grace of God steadfastly to continue in this profession?
  • Fourth, do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?

It’s the fourth vow that is the sticking point here. We live in a highly transient culture. People arrive from seemingly everywhere and others depart just as quickly. In the current economy, as jobs disappear quickly, so do members. Sometimes people simply disappear without a trace. The problem is the fourth vow. With that vow Christians have pledged fidelity to the visible, institutional church. They cannot simply vanish without a word to Christ’s church. They have taken sacred and binding vows which have practical consequences.

In response to our transient culture, some congregations have adopted a practice of “lapsing” or “erasing” members who simply disappear. On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to do. Indeed, I’ve done it myself. After all, what else can the elders do in such a case? If a member is gone, he is gone. It’s not good for the church rolls to be full of non-attending members and the elders are no longer able to care for a missing member, so the best thing is simply to accede to the reality of our transient culture and erase or lapse them.

There is an alternative. It’s the third mark of a true church: discipline. As attractive and eminently practical as lapsing or erasing members might be it’s not a biblical option. If church membership is analogous to marriage or any other binding contract, one member of the covenant cannot simply disappear. There are extraordinary circumstances. It might be that a husband goes on a trip and, unbeknownst to anyone, he is eaten by a lion. Ordinarily, however, if someone disappears, it is with intent. If it is with intent, then there is a moral problem. In our time, when almost everyone has a mobile phone, email, facebook etc. going “off the grid” is pretty difficult. It requires intent. If a person intends to escape a covenanted relationship to the visible church by disappearing, then such a person has violated his membership vows. In such a case, a person is a candidate for church discipline, even if he is apparently beyond contact.

There is a reasonable objection to disciplining missing members. If church discipline is aimed primarily at restoring members and if the member is apparently beyond contact, how is church discipline of any value to the wandering member, especially if they have no idea that they’ve been disciplined? In such a case, isn’t consistory (session) spitting into the wind?

There are two responses. If the elders have made a good faith effort to contact someone using all reasonable means and the missing member persists in absenting himself from the means of grace then the elders must assume that the absence is intentional. The member is guilty of contumacy, a willful rebellion against Christ’s church. If the missing member is missing by intent, then the elders’ inability to contact him may only be apparent. Just because someone isn’t responding doesn’t mean he isn’t hearing the message. It’s true that the elders may not be able to follow the usual process in church discipline but they can follow some process. It seems perverse , however, to refuse to discipline someone for willful sin simply because he has found a technique for ducking contact with the visible church, as if he is saying, “If you can’t touch me, you can’t discipline me.”

Nonsense! Of course the elders can discipline someone who refuses to be contacted. Consistory/session can make good faith efforts to contact this person and then proceed to the next step. If someone continues to absent himself from the means of grace and apparently evade the elders (remember, just because he isn’t responding doesn’t mean that he’s not hearing) then his name and sin should be announced to the congregation as part of a good-faith effort to obey and apply Matthew 18. If, after these steps, a member continues to absent himself willfully (and that is the most reasonable presumption) then the process should continue to excommunication, if necessary.

There is a second point here that sometimes gets overlooked. Yes, discipline has the wayward member in view but it also has the congregation in view. This is apparent from Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor 5 and elsewhere. Sometimes Reformed folk speak about the “peace and purity of the church.” So they should. It is bracing and instructive to members to remind them, by such a process, that they took sacred vows before the risen Christ and before his holy church and that those vows entail a genuine commitment to the visible institutional church. However transient our culture may be, we are Christians first and citizens of an abiding, eternal, immutable kingdom. Our citizenship in this age may not be allowed to overwhelm our heavenly citizenship, our citizenship in the kingdom of God.

The good news is that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13;8). Our culture is transient. We are transient. Our jobs are transient, but Christ is not. He obeyed on behalf of died as the substitute for covenant-breaking wretches such as you and me. He came for the ones who strayed and he still loves those who stray. If you’re reading this and you have wandered from a Reformed church, a congregation that has the marks of a true church (the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of discipline) please contact your elders. They still love you. Wandering from Christ’s church is a sin but it is not the unforgivable sin. There is redemption. There is grace (free acceptance with God). When you return you will be received like the prodigal you are. Speaking as a minister and as a sinner I can say one of the greatest joys of the Christian life is to see one restored and that joy is not only for the church but for the wanderer who is restored. The beginning of restoration is only a phone call or email away.

UPDATE 21 Dec 2009

My congregation recently approved a revision to our by-laws which allows the consistory (elders and ministers) to “lapse” one with whom they have lost contact and whom they are unable to contact for one year. My response is ask what the military does with someone who goes AWOL for a year? Do they simply lapse a soldier, a sailor, a marine, or member of the air force if they evade contact with the MPs for one year? I guess not. I guess that the MPs have a list of AWOL personnel and when they catch one of them that person is disciplined. If a consistory is unwilling to discipline someone in absentia, then why can’t they make a list of folks who need to be disciplined? Why reward them for going off the ecclesiastical grid?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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32 comments

  1. Thanks for this great post. One question: What do you do in the case that a church practices some sort of membership but never had a solid membership class and/or never had membership vows to begin with and now wants to start to practice church discipline on the “lapsed”? How do they admonish “lapsed” members to come back if they never took vows or were never taught the importance of membership in the first place?

  2. Hi Brian,

    Of course the premise of this piece is that there is such a thing as membership. There’s a section on this question is this essay:

    http://www.wscal.edu/clark/ecclesiology.php

    If a congregation has no formal membership practice then I would ask whether it is a really a church. I understand that, in our loosey-goosey, fluid, fluctuating age, this sounds radical but from the pov of historic, confessional (and biblical) Protestantism it isn’t radical at all.

  3. One of the contributing problems to this cultural issue may be the more or less casual manner in which we as elders administer vows. Presumably, the vows have been previously read by the joining member before they are administered. Yet have the consequences of breaking the 4th vow ever been discussed with the individuals applying for membership? Or are we as elders too eager to get them to sign on the dotted line with an unsaid attitude of “let’s not rock the boat”? If we were to censure an absent member by announcing his or her having been censored by the session before the congregation it would seem only fair that we so advise our new members when they join that we are serious about holding them accountable to the 4th vow. If we are already communicating the seriousness of the 4th vow to would be members then we should be free to pursue them with censorship in their absence. Would this discourage some from joining? Would others think twice before running from the fellowship? If our motivation is church growth then announcing the consequences of violating the 4th vow would be a bad idea.

  4. Thank you, Dr. Clark. In the past year our consistory has started to make sure we inform potential members of the seriousness of the vows to which they will commit. We want them to know at the time of our interview so that they understand the covenant relationship they are about to enter with this local manifestation of Christ’s church.

  5. I agree with Phil wholeheartedly. I fear some of our Reformed churches are eager to have new members commit to membership precipitously in an effort to compete with the evangelical church down the street.

  6. Great discussion. This issue is one that has been consistently coming up at our consistory meetings. The members/potential members are hearing the vows three separate times before joining the church. In the membership class, at the membership interview and in front of the church when they make their public profession. We have also recently implemented making this an item of discussion during our home visitations. We take these vows to Christ very seriously and our commitment to them must also be serious to include discipline for violations. Society (right now) has little regard for promises made, commitments, or authority (least of all church authority). Protecting the body in this way is vital to us being “in this world but not of it”.

  7. Good thoughts as an ideal, but I have a question about the practice as it might work out on the ground.

    What would someone be expected to do who, say, was new to Reformed Christianity, and who in their excitement joined a PRC (as just one example), then due to a necessary move decided that they wanted to transfer to a local PCA, or even a good Evangelical congregation in a locale where there might not be any Reformed presence within driving distance. Let’s then say that they knew that the session/consistory had already indicated they would not approve the transfer, because the new congregation did not hold their particular odd notion on some point of theology (opposition to common grace, the free offer, or whatever). Let’s say that the session had even been contentious about it in the past with others known to that member. Should the member really be faulted for wanting to avoid the fallout that would almost certainly occur should they contact the session whose collective heads were all screwed on wrong about the issue?

    Of course, ideally, that member would man up, have a good talk with the session, let them know why he did not agree with their position(s), why their oddball theology was no reason to disallow a transfer, and that he would make the leadership of the new congregation aware of the reasons behind them not receiving a transfer from his old congregation. However, there are those timid and mild folk who just can’t handle those sorts of confrontations. Certainly a phone call or an email should be easy enough to accomplish on your way out, but should the weak among us be faulted for failing to do so when they know what they will receive from the other end?

    I realize that this probably qualifies as being an exception to the rule, but there are enough oddball sessions/congregations out there to make it a serious, if highly occasional, question.

    • I understand. We’re not talking about a principled disagreement. That’s a matter for adjudication and wisdom. I’m writing about people who simply disappear, poof, into the ether after taking membership vows. These would seem to be two different cases.

  8. “Should the member really be faulted for wanting to avoid the fallout that would almost certainly occur should they contact the session whose collective heads were all screwed on wrong about the issue?”

    Yes!

    The responsibilities of being a member of Christ’s Church do not go away simply because carrying them out may be difficult.

    Also, there should be communication between the Sessions of the two churches even if one church refuses to transfer members to the other congregation. Whenever my OPC congregation receives a new member from a congregation that will not transfer the member to us (e.g. if the individual is coming from a PCUSA congregation), we always ask for a letter of standing.

  9. “How should consistories/sessions address the problem of members of a congregation who simply seem to disappear as if they’ve fallen off the face of the earth?”

    Em… if members simply disappear I think consistories/sessions have already failed to do their job of caring for those members… they have failed to understand “membership” or church discipline as an ongoing commitment on the part of everyone involved.

    “Anyone who has a family will know that there is more likelihood of success in dealing with acute disciplinary issues with children, if you have shown commitment as parents to creating an environment of care and discipline. Church discipline needs to become a daily reality in which rebuke and exhortation are normal.” p119, Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, IVP

    • It is still possible to go off the ecclesiastical grid. I’ve seen it done in our congregation more than once. That’s why our consistory has struggled with this. I don’t like the answer they adopted but the problem is real. Cell phone numbers change. Email accounts change. FB accounts go away. People are transitory now.

      The question for us has not been whether people can disappear but what should a consistory/session do when they disappear?

      • Scott, do you really mean that people up and leave their homes without elders knowing? Within the space of a month or so?

        How often should elders interact with their people? There is something wrong if there is no regular, ongoing (I’d say at least fornightly) contact between elders and members.

        To have a mechanism for deleting names from a list is just bizarre. Is there no mechanism for ensuring that every member is cared for properly!!

  10. Possibly the single most significant failure on the part of the heirs of the true marks of the church. As an elder, I always consider with fear what I will hear from the One who will ask me for an accounting of the sheep He placed under my (under) shepherding, “why did you leave my sheep alone and cold in the dark, stormy night?”

    In my current call we (like many churches) have a list of members who are “lapsed.” Regular efforts have been made in the past, bu apparently these have been rather anemic, “we miss you, when you coming back for a visit?”, letters. We decided last night that in two cases (which we’ve recently begun a serious pursuit of), that when we next go to visit with these folks, our first order of business is to ask their forgiveness for not teaching them that being a regular part of the church is essential (consequent) to their faith.

    The PCA’s BCO has a paragraph on how to handle this (38-40). Ordinarily after one year of such absence, the person’s name can be removed. I wonder how many of us elders pay attention to all the details of this paragraph? It tells us that we are to communicate this to the lapsed member, and that this action is actually pastoral discipline. In effect, what the action is saying is this: since you will not fulfill your membership vows to Christ’s Church, we are declaring that you have no part with His Church, or Him.

    If we took that more seriously up front, I suspect we would neither be so negligent in our going after wayward sheep, nor so easily administratively “scrub” their name from the rolls.

    If we don’t perform this most basic of disicpline well, how can we the more serious cases?

  11. Good point about Facebook and social networks. It would be pretty hard for folks to disappear if they connect with friends in these outlets. And it’s also true that people who connect in these outlets yet lapse from the church may have issues with face to face fellowship, and real world relationships, and they need to be tended to with pastoral care.

  12. In one sense we should be glad to have this problem, at least we’ve got people still joining the church(es) as communicant members.

    One aspect of the issue: there are really no teeth, in this world, to the vows. There is no perceived downside to forsaking membership vows, for those so inclined. And the ability for sinful humans to engage in self-justifying is astounding. Even without skipping town (depending on its size), it’s all to easy for someone to skip out on a church, the elders and their vows (and their brothers & sisters). They can get everything, probably even another round of communicant membership, by presenting themselves somewhere else. In too many instances, these lapsing/mobile folks can very easily receive the Lord’s Supper without the need to be communicant members at the celebrating church. There are few means of interoperability or cross-federation accountability with respect to that most visible aspect of church membership: Access to the Lord’s Supper.

    The following is a very rough sketch. You’re familiar with Craig’s List, right? The web-based clearinghouse for buying/selling/giving away, etc. What we need is a Timothy’s List (thinking of Pastoral Epistles) or a Corinth List (thinking of 1 Cor ch 11, etc); a web-based, password-protected listing of those suspended from the Lord’s Supper, to be accessed by pastors and clerks of session/consistory.

    Of course, this still assumes a significant method of “fencing” the table, of recognizing who should partake that is not a member of the celebrating congregation.

      • Long before the implimentation of a NAPARC Lord’s Supper no-fly-list, the thing to do would be transforming the culture within the church, explicitly informing members of their duties. Although I’m aware of such responsibilities on my part and that these are akin to a marriage contract, I think it would be utterly naive to think that the majority of members are so aware even if informed.

        Honestly, the problem is that such a cultural transformation, if not done with great care, could very well end up making NAPARC churches seem and even being pointlessly aggresive.

          • Tell you what, you guys disable the GOBN at presbytery, unstack the deck against laity bringing charges
            against elders and actually use discipline as a restorative not punitive measure, and then and only
            then can you talk about chasing down delinquent members.

            • Sean,

              I’m not sure who the “you guys” are, but my experience in the OPC bears no resemblance to your complaint, nor does my previous experience in the Reformed Episcopal Church.

              In my admittedly limited experience discipline has almost always been positive and focused on restoration. I do not know of a single instance where there was a rush to bring charges against a lay person but I do know of several cases where, in retrospect, it would have been wiser for the Session to have been more forceful with errant individuals sooner.

              Furthermore Ministers and Elders are not free to put off chasing down delinquent members. We are required by the office we have been called into to pursue wandering sheep.

              David

              • Sean,

                I’ve seen abuses of ecclesiastical authority. Every confessional Reformed denomination/federation I know has an avenue for appeal. Pastors, even those who are the subject of the appeal, have a duty to help an appellant or complainant form a good motion for a broader/ higher assembly. Assemblies are obligated to provide counsel for those who lack proper ecclesiastical counsel.

                The theory is there, even if the practice is sometimes lacking. I’ve seen assemblies, however, go to great lengths to protect the accused.

                • David,

                  Consider yourself fortunate.

                  Dr. Clark,

                  I don’t disagree with the theory. Never have. Unfortunately, I consider your confessional maximalism not a little akin to a coach trying to implement a system of play for which he lacks the personnel. I don’t state that opinion happily.

                  • Sean,

                    On your theory we can never have reformation because we’ll never have glorified people this side of the consummation. We’ve always had to make do with sinners.

                    • Dr Clark,

                      I’m not shooting for perfection. You’re talking to a guy who left Rome for Geneva as a teenager and was met with violence from within his own family for it, I know about “hard things”. I’ve served in the diaconate, I know all about overlooking people’s warts, including my own, and doing what needs to be done. The personnel does not exist in any sufficient number to execute what you propose. Trying to implement the praxis before having at least a burgeoning minority within the offices to carry through just some of what you propose is tantamount to spitting in the wind and causing a great deal of( I won’t say harm) discouragement and hurt. Now, we want to think about chasing members down, who’ve abandoned their membership for who knows what reason? Man, I’d start and live for about the next twenty years shoring up the ruling, teaching, and diaconate offices. Then, maybe, pick my head up and look at where the laity is falling short in their membership vows. Just because something has a chance of getting executed in a small pocket of the american reformed world doesn’t mean the vast majority of the NAPARC churches have the structure(personnel) to even think about trying to ably implement that sort of discipline. But that’s just my opinion.

  13. Why would we need a universally-accessible list of communicant membership? Churches should be requiring transfer of membership through direct contact with a person’s previous church (assuming they are not just a visitor) in order to become communicant members.

    • David,

      Yes, but not all churches are in communion with one another or have formal relations etc. I’ve seen members received by NAPARC congregations who shouldn’t have been, at least not without consulting the home church. If, however, a fleeing member doesn’t tell the receiving church that they are fleeing discipline then…. Thus some sort of clearing house would be interesting (but it could also be subject to real abuse).

  14. More important at this point than developing a culture among the laity in our churches by which problems as this would be overcome is, and this has been my firm conviction for some time now, developing ministers and elders who are firm in their integrity, character, and ability to examine and fault themselves long before they lay the blame at the feet of their charges.

    Having myself moved among PCA, OPC, URCNA, EPC, and RCUS congregations in various capacities of ministry and candidating I have been troubled to see in a good 50-60% (possibly even a conservative estimate) of these congregations serious pastoral and leadership deficiencies among the ministers, the elders, or both. The apostles, though quick to confront sin in the church, were just as quick to set forth their own example as being a standard to follow. Many, many of the men under whom I have served, or with whom I have served, could not do such before the churches, because their character, principles, and integrity have been flawed at the ground level. They are not bold men in the faith, because you cannot be bold where guilt and shame resides in your heart. They have not been men to inspire their people in the image of Christ, because to do so one must be filled with the spirit of Christ, and must know how to instill in their charges those virtues and principles of character that the apostles found to be of such greater importance than whether we can successfully argue for taking pastoral interns to gamble at the horse track, or how we can explain that the giggles caused by our “light buzz” at the Christmas party have not really passed over into drunkenness. Or what about those ministers who spend their time trying to find ways to explain away elements of the Scriptures and confessions, or who model laziness to their interns by xeroxing 40% of their sermon out of Turretin’s Elenctic Theology a mere five minutes before the beginning of worship…

    I have made brief mention of my thoughts to a certain Reformed minister sometime in the past year, himself also a former soldier (officer and tank commander), regarding the vast gap between the capabilities and character of many in military leadership, and that of our NAPARC ministers, particularly in the PCA. We know that the church is a body inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and that we cannot in all ways measure her by the standards of worldly leadership, yet, there are parallels as can be seen by the military language employed by the apostles, and the stalwart character that they themselves displayed in the face of Satan and the world in their apostolic mission. As I continued my studies in the Officer’s Handbook this week in preparation for the upcoming months of training at the Chaplains Basic Officer Leadership Course at Ft. Jackson, I was saddened to reflect upon how the military, in a good many appropriate ways, demands greater professionalism, integrity, and displays of character in the most stressful of circumstances than we in our churches demand of ourselves as soldiers of the Gospel.

    Could it be that in determining the problem to be primarily with the laity, that we are doing that which would never be allowed to continue among the standards of even this world’s leadership, namely, that we are refusing to ask of ourselves the hard questions, refusing to start with our own failures, and are instead laying the blame at the feet of “Christ’s enlisted”. For shame if we are doing so, for it would show that we have already failed as officers in his kingdom. And by speaking of improved leadership I do not mean how to become more efficient in carrying out the letter of our respective BCOs, as important as that may be. Every good officer knows the difference between being a leader, and being a bean-counting bureaucrat.

    Being a leader is about instilling character, about inspiring confidence, and in our context about doing so out of a love for Christ and his people. I believe that if many of the men with whom I have interacted in the past held such a great love for their people, their congregations would not be falling apart and rebelling against them. I have been a part of a congregation in which the minister and elders had a warm and sincere love of their people, and it showed. The body was vibrant, and discipline issues never got to the formal level (at least during the time in which my family and I were there), because the leadership had enough of a care about themselves to take these people out, to speak with them over a meal, to pray with them, to come to their homes without agenda, but with a desire to see the joy of Christ in their homes. I have seen such exemplary leadership, but it is rare. It is also rare, because it is exceedingly humble. That is not always a virtue for which NAPARC ministers have been known.

    I found it of great interest, when reading through Calvin’s sermons on the book of Acts, that in his sermon on the marks of the church, from Acts 2:41-42, he mentioned three marks, but the third may surprise some of us. The third mark was loving Christian fellowship; discipline was not even mentioned. Not once. Now assuredly Calvin would affirm the need for discipline in the church, as he was a biblical theologian, and as such he would have recognized that the bible instructs the church in matters of discipline. However, Calvin also recognized that without the enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit instilling His virtues of loving unity and the bond of Christian fellowship among the church that discipline would not only assuredly be required, but that it would be an empty gesture sure to do nothing but reinforce the division and lack of life that were already to be found in such a body. Do we need discipline? Of course, but far before we engage in that we need leaders who are men of transparency, of integrity, men of their word, and men of The Word. We need men who love Christ and his people more than their reputations, their comfort, or their positions. And that is something, that along with most of you, I myself find exceedingly difficult in light of the flesh which wars against us.

    Tonight, as I was reading through Luther’s commentary on Paul’s epistle to the church in Galatia, I was sobered by this statement, a statement by which could all stand to sober ourselves. He wrote concerning false shepherds:

    “They brought their corrupt doctrine to no places of peril, nor to where the gospel was not preached before, as Paul and the other apostles did, but they came to Galatia where the foundation of the gospel was already laid, and into Asia, Corinth, and other places where good men were, persecuting no man, but suffering all things quietly. There might the enemies of Christ’s cross live in security, and without persecution.

    If we seek our own security, comfort, and position more than we seek the growth of unity and loving fellowship (a la Calvin) among the body of Christ, then we have failed as officers in His kingdom. It starts with us, men. The only blame that can be laid is at our own feet. Good leaders deal with changing, even exceedingly difficult, situations. A transitory culture? A culture in which people are flighty and look lightly upon personal responsibility? Then such is a perfect opportunity, as spiritual fathers, to love them, to teach them, and to guid them and their families into a healthier view of the body, and of their own role in it.

    I would add for any who would desire to run through these comments making excuses and attempting to bypass their force by analyzing them to death that you have already failed the first test of leadership, Christian or otherwise. A people will rise no higher than their leaders, and leaders must not make excuse or point fingers; leaders take full responsibility, and they thrive in the face of impossible odds. How much more so should we, among whom resides the power of God Himself, rise to the occasion and take on the full force of the world as did the apostolic mission?

    One of my favorite posters from my military past was that of a simple hammer. Underneath the hammer had been written these words, “Hammers don’t promise, hammers don’t try, hammers just do.”

    Maybe it is time for some of us to start hanging that poster on the backs of our office doors; realizing that we do so in the power of Him who sent us.

    Have a merry Christmas (even to the Scrooges among us), and if you would during these holidays take some time to pray for our soldiers, many of whom are brothers and sisters in Christ facing the evils of a false religion, of death, discomfort, separation from spouses and children, and enduring many physical pains and spiritual distresses regarding which those of us who have luxury to post on these blogs remain largely unaware.

    God bless.

    • Well, that’s my goal, to be a hammer. I’m tired of always being the nail. 🙂

      Seriously, appreciate your thoughts.

    • Adam,

      As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a Commissioned Officer in the Marine Corps – I was literally stunned when I went to seminary by how low the standards were. Since then I have continued to think: “If we trained military officers the way we train officers for ministry – we would lose all of our wars.” In fairness, this is not the fault of the seminary students as they didn’t create the current system. Furthermore, the military not only expects more of its officers than the Church does – it provides the means for its leadership to become fully equipped (e.g. Fighter pilots don’t work his way through flight school).

      That said, please consider that cultivating the right culture among the laity is precisely what good officers are supposed to be doing. The New Testament is full of exhortations for Christians to exert themselves with great discipline in loving and following Jesus (e.g. Hebrews 12:1). Part of the failure of church leadership has been that we have expected far too little from the Christians under our care.

      I would also caution you against being too quick to assume that the Session of a church is a mess – because they are not doing what you wish they were doing. I know a lot of NAPARC pastors. Perhaps some of them should never have been ordained (due to a lack of requisite gifts) but the vast majority of them work quite hard on their sermons and other aspects of their ministry. They are not xeroxing 40% of their sermons from Turretin or anyone else.

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