Hope For Fans of Ravi Zacharias

Reporting on the alleged sexual abuse of a prominent apologist has shaken parts of the evangelical world if the coverage at Christianity Today is any indication. I for one still find it hard to believe that Zacharias was the owner of two day spas. Imagine Tim Keller or Francis Schaeffer having side businesses like a delicatessen or mountain-climbing equipment store.

Here’s the thing. As I read and listen to people lamenting an evangelists fall from grace (alleged), I can’t help wondering whether the people who converted or became more convinced of Christianity through Zacharias are any less converted or convinced because of the apologist’s sins. The truth of the gospel, after all, does not depend on the character or zeal or holiness of the one proclaiming the gospel.

And here evangelicals depressed by the news about Zacharias might be envious of Reformed Protestants because we have a tradition that recognizes that the efficacy of preaching does not depend on the character of the minister. Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

I understand not all Reformed Protestants believe this. But even in Zurich, which was not exactly Geneva on the spectrum of high church/low church convictions, the church confessed a high view of preaching that could rival Rome’s teaching on transubstantiation for unbelievability.

This Week in California and the Danger of Unconverted Ministers

I am glad to see that discussions continue at Oldlife without input or posts from (all about me). Apologies for not spending more time on-line, but I am in the midst of a week-long course on American Presbyterianism at Westminster (California).

I do not know how many times I have taught this material but I continue to be amazed by the consequences of the piety and concerns that prevailed in the First Great Pretty Good Awakening. The different understanding of conversion that the awakenings introduced — an immediate encounter with God versus the life long mortification and vivification taught in the Heidelberg Catechism (88-90) — as well as a different conception of qualifications for ministry, were huge for the future of Presbyterianism in the United States and beyond.

At the heart (no pun intended) of these differences is a piety geared more to subjective experiences as the ground for authenticity as opposed to objective promises and means. Arguably one of the best examples of this is to contrast Gilbert Tennent’s sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Minister,” in which he argues that critics of revivals are unconverted, to the Second Helvetic Confession on preaching done by wicked or evil ministers:

Even Evil Ministers Are To Be Heard. Moreover, we strongly detest the error of the Donatists who esteem the doctrine and administration of the sacraments to be either effectual or not effectual, according to the good or evil life of the ministers. For we know that the voice of Christ is to be heard, though it be out of the mouths of evil ministers; because the Lord himself said: “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (Matt. 23:3). We know that the sacraments are sanctified by the institution and the word of Christ, and that they are effectual to the godly, although they be administered by unworthy ministers. Concerning this matter, Augustine, the blessed servant of God, many times argued from the Scriptures against the Donatists. (ch. 18)

That also explains why ministers have power by virtue of the office as opposed to their character:

The Keys. For a lord gives up his power to the steward in his house, and for that cause gives him the keys, that he may admit into or exclude from the house those whom his lord will have admitted or excluded. In virtue of this power the minister, because of his office, does that which the Lord has commanded him to do; and the Lord confirms what he does, and wills that what his servant has done will be so regarded and acknowledged, as if he himself had done it. Undoubtedly, it is to this that these evangelical sentences refer: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Again, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). But if the minister does not carry out everything as the Lord has commanded him, but transgresses the bounds of faith, then the Lord certainly makes void what he has done. Wherefore the ecclesiastical power of the ministers of the Church is that function whereby they indeed govern the Church of God, but yet so do all things in the Church as the Lord has prescribed in his Word. When those things are done, the faithful esteem them as done by the Lord himself. But mention has already been made of the keys above. (ch. 18)

Where's Waldo Wednesday

Chapter 13 – Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Promises, and of the Spirit and Letter

The Ancients Had Evangelical Promises. The Gospel, is indeed, opposed to the law. For the law works wrath and announces a curse, whereas the Gospel preaches grace and blessing. John says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Yet not withstanding it is most certain that those who were before the law and under the law, were not altogether destitute of the Gospel. For they had extraordinary evangelical promises such as these are: “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head” (Gen. 3:15). “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . until he comes” (Gen. 49:10). “The Lord will raise up a prophet from among his own brethren” (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22), etc.

The Promises Twofold. And we acknowledge that two kinds of promises were revealed to the fathers, as also to us. For some were of present or earthly things, such as the promises of the Land of Canaan and of victories, and as the promise today still of daily bread. Others were then and are still now of heavenly and eternal things, namely, divine grace, remission of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Fathers Also Had Not Only Carnal but Spiritual Promises. Moreover, the ancients had not only external and earthly but also spiritual and heavenly promises in Christ. Peter says: “The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation” (1 Peter 1:10). Wherefore the apostle Paul also said: “The Gospel of God was promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). Thereby it is clear that the ancients were not entirely destitute of the whole Gospel.

What Is the Gospel Properly Speaking? And although our fathers had the Gospel in this way in the writings of the prophets by which they attained salvation in Christ through faith, yet the Gospel is properly called glad and joyous news, in which, first by John the Baptist, then by Christ the Lord himself, and afterwards by the apostles and their successors, is preached to us in the world that God has now performed what he promised from the beginning of the world, and has sent, nay more, has given us his only Son and in him reconciliation with the Father, the remission of sins, all fullness and everlasting life. Therefore, the history delineated by the four Evangelists and explaining how these things were done or fulfilled by Christ, what things Christ taught and did, and that those who believe in him have all fullness, is rightly called the Gospel. The preaching and writings of the apostles, in which the apostles explain for us how the Son was given to us by the Father, and in him everything that has to do with life and salvation, is also rightly called evangelical doctrine, so that not even today, if sincerely preached, does it lose its illustrious title.

Of the Spirit and the Letter. That same preaching of the Gospel is also called by the apostle “the spirit” and “the ministry of the spirit” because by faith it becomes effectual and living in the ears, nay more, in the hearts of believers through the illumination of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). For the letter, which is opposed to the Spirit, signifies everything external, but especially the doctrine of the law which, without the Spirit and faith, works wrath and provokes sin in the minds of those who do not have a living faith. For this reason the apostle calls it “the ministry of death.” In this connection the saying of the apostle is pertinent: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” And false apostles preached a corrupted Gospel, having combined it with the law, as if Christ could not save without the law. (Second Helvetic Confession)