God’s Powerpoint of Grace

When medical researchers want to explain their work, they usually have to produce large-scale models or graphics of the tiny part of the body they are working on. Without that, few would see or understand their accomplishments.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, when God wanted to show His work of grace in the soul, he produced a large-scale model of it, so that more could see and understand how He worked and what He could do. That’s Israel – God’s Powerpoint to display to the world who and how He saves. The nation demonstrated on a national level what God does on a personal level. Consider some of the the most important words in the whole Old Testament (Exodus 19:4-6):

  • Redemption
    • Divine Deeds: “You have seen what I did.”
    • Divine Defeat: “To the Egyptians”
    • Divine Deliverance: “How I bore you on eagle’s wings”
    • God’s deeds come before human response, the Lamb before the Law.
  • Relationship
    • Divine Destiny: “I brought you to myself”
  • Rules
    • “Now therefore, obey my voice.”
    •  In the light of all that I’ve done, here’s how to show your gratitude and keep our relationship happy and healthy
  • Reward
    • Precious: You will be my special treasure
    • Priestly: You will be a kingdom of priests
    • Pure: You will be a unique nation
    • God graciously adds three extra motivations for observing his covenant rules

God’s redemption brought Israel into a relationship with clear boundaries, which, when observed, would be amply rewarded.

Personal Powerpoint
Israel’s big mistake was to think that just because they were part of God’s National Powerpoint, that they did not need that to be personalized. However, no one ever went to heaven simply because they were an Israelite. Only Israelites that personalized the National Powerpoint did. Individuals had to experience the 4 R’s in their own souls.

In many ways, the Church is God’s Powerpoint to the world today. How can we better display God’s grace? And how can we ensure that people don’t think that just because they see the Powerpoint, or even are in the Powerpoint, that they are saved?

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Where are the Presbyterian Celebrity Pastors?

I’ve had enough painful experience of the weaknesses and abuses of Presbyterian Church government to know that it’s no panacea for the church’s ills – way too often it’s been the cause of them.

However, we seem to have been largely spared the celebrity pastor problem. Tim Keller is maybe the closest we’ve got. However, though fame has come to him, I don’t believe he’s gone looking for it (surely the defining characteristic of any celebrity). Others, like Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan have significant name recognition, but again who could ever argue that either of these two Christian gentlemen fit into the celebrity pastor mold? I mean they wear ties and blazers! Though popular and much-loved, they don’t have a whole entrepreneurial-industrial-business model built around them.

Plurality and Parity
Maybe, for all of Presbyterianism’s faults, there’s something in the system that limits this kind of phenomenon. It’s built of course on the whole idea of the plurality and parity of elders. No pastor operates as a lone ranger but is one of at least three elders; and no pastor is given more power or votes than his fellow elders.

On top of that is the plurality and parity of churches. No church is allowed to stand alone but is accountable to other local churches. And that’s not just true of the small churches, but of the big ones too. And all equally so. In Scottish Presbyterianism, the regular Presbytery meetings and the annual General Assembly are attended by an equal number of pastors (teaching elders) and elders (ruling elders), and all have the same rights – one vote each, ten minutes speaking time per issue/report, etc. It doesn’t matter if you represent the biggest or the smallest church – you are treated equally. It’s not the most ego-friendly of environments (except for the clerks!).

Even just the regular mixing with fellow pastors and elders from all sorts of different churches, wrestling through problems together, building consensus, praying together, debating Scripture, encouraging and admonishing one another, when working well, it all tends to puncture selfishness and self-importance.

Equal Pay
Then, at least in some Presbyterian churches, there’s the “Equal Dividend Platform,” an old name for the idea that every pastor is paid the same, no matter how big or small their church. Admittedly, some of the larger churches pay their pastors more by way of expenses, but it usually makes a difference of only about a few thousand dollars. And by the way, the salary of a pastor in my Scottish church is about 65% of national average earnings, which, with a parsonage/manse, gave a total salary value of about 85% of national average earnings (making the grand sum of @$27,000 pa). Try building a brand with that!

In my denomination, even when pastors were asked to take on extra responsibilities, like committee clerkships or lectureships, they were not given any “bonus.” The argument was, “Everyone’s working flat out already; so why should lecturers or clerks get paid more than those doing evangelism, etc?”

Weaknesses and Strengths
As I said, I’m well aware of Presbyterianism’s shortcomings. Like all forms of Church government, it’s only as good as those who run it. Structures and systems are no substitute for the Spirit, but I do think that Presbyterianism has some helpful hindrances to ego-driven ministries.

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Professors need to come down from their Ivory Towers
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