Questions for a Prospective Pastor*

It is not uncommon for a pastor to be opposed by the very people who at first enthusiastically promoted him. Why? Often it is because only surface communication took place between the potential pastor and the congregation before he assumed his position in the church. In our day it is possible for a pastor to be chosen for a church with almost no serious questions being asked, much less any doctrinal questions. This should never be the case. We suggest that churches seek the most complete dialogue possible about matters of doctrine, practice, and lifestyle. If the church fails to do so, the prospective pastor should call for it. This procedure protects both pastor and church.

Two other matters are of extreme importance. First, the potential pastor should supply a list of references. The church must carefully follow up these references and even ask those individuals to suggest others. Consideration should be given to the fact that sometimes a person is disliked for no fault of his own. (Even Christ was hated.) The breadth of inquiry through references assures you that the pastor has “a good reputation with those both inside and outside the church.” (1 Timothy 3:7) Your questioning of references should focus on the list of qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These lists of qualifications were written primarily as a means of observing the lives of prospective leaders in the church, not as a list of questions to ask the candidate. Such observation is extremely important. Of course the ideal would be for your church to live with the man and observe his life over months and even years of time. Because this unfortunately is not the pattern of most churches, you will have to depend heavily on the observations of the references supplied. Superficial or overly subjective answers by the candidate himself could distort the true picture. The survey below will refer to the above mentioned passages, but their use will be more general; your use of them with the names references should be extensive. This does not infer that the passages mentioned are not of extreme importance for the candidate to use in questioning himself.

Related to the above is a second consideration: Much effort should be made to expose the prospective pastor to the church for as long a time as possible before a decision is reached. Exposure to a prospect is not a problem when choosing pastors from within the congregation, but it does pose a considerable difficulty for those bringing a new pastor in from outside. A quick weekend of meetings is often not enough for the people to be properly informed. Remember, this man will be there a long time, influencing your family and the community for Christ. We know that you are ready now to have your new pastor. But there is one thing worse than no pastor—the wrong pastor.

This final suggestion: After initial interviews, consider getting taped or written answers to these questions from the one who is the most serious prospect at the time. Ask him if he is interested enough to go to this further stage of inquiry and tell him that it will take a good deal of his valuable time. This in-depth questioning is for those men who show a high level of interest. Clarifying questions can then follow by phone and personal interview. A select group of these questions may be asked later in the larger church meetings to allow the pastor to speak about his beliefs and to receive further questions.

Jim Elliff and Don Whitney
The following questions are not necessarily listed in order of their significance. Some of them may not be important to you. You may want to add others. There is no such thing as the perfect pastor; but attention to these matters along with lengthy times of prayer and even fasting should assure you of finding God’s man for your church.

________________________________

There are many who profess to know Christ who are mistaken. What evidences do you have that you have been given life by God?

What does it mean for a person to love God? In what ways do you see true biblical love toward God demonstrated in your life? Do you see true biblical love toward God in the lives of your wife and each of your children?

How does your wife feel about your commitment to pastoring?

Why do you believe God wants you in the pastorate?

Closely examine each of the Bible’s qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Which are you strongest qualities? With which requirements do you have the most trouble? Why do you believe these areas of difficulty do not presently disqualify you from ministering? (Note the phrase “must be” in 1 Tim. 3:2.)

A pastor is charged by God to preach to the church and to shepherd the people in a more individual way. Which aspect of the ministry appeals to you the most? What are some specific ways you could be helped to develop your skills in either of these areas?

What are your methods for involving yourself in the lives of your people as their shepherd and overseer of their souls?

What activities characterize your evangelistic interest? What is your approach to personal evangelism? corporate evangelism?

What is your approach to counseling? How do you handle your counseling load?

What are your specific and regular practices regarding the spiritual disciplines (e.g., personal prayer, Bible study, meditation, stewardship, learning, etc.)?

How would you describe a successful pastor? How would you describe a successful church?

How is the pastor held accountable? What relationships in your life currently provide accountability for responsible attitudes and behavior, both personally and as pastor?

Who are your favorite Christian writers, commentators, theologians, etc.? Why? What books have you read in the past year?

Describe an instance when you made attempts to reform the church in some significant area. What were the results? What did it cost you personally?

Describe your leadership style. What have been some weaknesses? Strengths?

When you have met with opposition, has it been mostly related to your style of leadership, your personality, your beliefs, or something else?

According to your observations, what doctrines needs special emphasis in our day?

What is true biblical repentance?

What is true biblical faith?

Explain justification by faith. What is the difference between the Catholic view of justification and the biblical view?

Please explain your view of sanctification. What are the various means God uses to sanctify the believer?

Can a person have Christ as his Savior without submitting to Him as Lord? Explain.

What is your position on the inerrancy of Scripture?

Explain the biblical term “baptism of the Spirit.” When does this baptism occur?

What are your views on baptism by water?

How does the Bible relate the sovereignty of God to salvation?

What does the Bible teach about the extent of man’s depravity?

What does Christ’s atonement accomplish?

What does the Bible teach about the perseverance and preservation of believers?

What is the proper use of the Old Testament law?

How do you articulate your present view of end-time or eschatological issues?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin? What is the significance of your belief?

What is your interpretation of the biblical teaching on Hell?

Do you believe that the events described in Genesis 1-11 are factual or symbolic?

What does the Bible teach concerning spiritual gifts? Please delineate your views about prophecy and speaking in tongues.

What is your view of divorce and remarriage? How strictly will you follow this view in practice?

What is your view of the phrase, “The bishop [pastor] then must be…the husband of one wife”
(1 Tim. 3:2)?

What are your requirements for performing a marriage ceremony?

Please explain your views on church discipline. Relate any personal experience.

How would you handle a case of scandal or immorality by a church member?

What is your view on abortion?

Many children who appear to be converted at an early age show no evidence of knowing Christ later. How do you handle children when they come to you for counsel concerning conversion? What is your advice to parents?

What is a useful plan for receiving new members into the church? What are prerequisites?

What are your views on styles of church music?

Who should direct the worship of the church? Why? Which methods of leading corporate worship are appropriate? Which are inappropriate?

What does the Bible teach is the purpose of the church’s weekly gathering?

What are your views regarding raising money for various projects within the church? Should the church solicit those outside the church?

What are your convictions about the local church and debt?

What does the bible teach about women in pastoral ministry?

What does the Bible teach about how churches should make decisions?

How should a pastor and his church relate to other churches locally and (if denominational) to the larger body? Do you feel comfortable cooperating with other denominations? Do you draw any lines?

What are the biblical responsibilities of elders? Are there any distinctions between elders, pastors, and overseers? If applicable, what distinctions exist between staff and non-staff pastors?

What are the biblical responsibilities of deacons? How are deacons and elders to relate?

What emphasis do you give to the leadership of fathers with their families, especially in terms of family worship? Do you personally engage in family worship with your wife and children?

What is your missionary vision for the church? How are you currently demonstrating missionary interest and involvement?

__________________________

A man does not have to have full and immediate answers to every question to be a good and faithful minister. With some of these questions it may be acceptable for him to say, “I don’t know,” or, “I don’t have my position completely developed on that yet.”

However, beware of a pastor who seems to avoid giving clear answers. Certainly with some questions he may find it necessary to define terms and qualify his response. Proceed carefully if he avoids making his position as plain as possible.

Other questions, if applicable, might deal with such issues as the church growth movement, home schooling, the Masons, the New Age movement, racial views, political activity of the church, relationships with other ministries or movements, etc. Questions regarding other important doctrinal issues should be asked as needed (e.g., regarding the deity of Christ, the acceptance of the Trinity, etc.) Both a search committee and the church should satisfy themselves concerning any issues they wish to discuss.

____________________________
*Some or all of these questions may also be appropriate for ordination councils, securing church staff, qualifying missionaries, Christian school faculty interviews, and evaluating suitability of candidates for Christian ministries.

Questions and Answers about Childhood Conversion

Click on the questions below to hear Jim’s answers in Real Audio format.

 

  • Introduction to the topic of childhood conversion.
  • 1. When should a child be baptized? What evidence do we look for? Do we encourage it or wait for the child to ask for it? (asked by parent of an 8 yr old)
  • 2. What is your opinion about children taking communion?
  • 3. What is your view on children praying? If we have doubts about our kid’s conversion, should we allow them to pray at meals or before bedtime?
  • 4. What do you do as a parent who has teenage children or grown children and you blew it with them when they were little?5. Is conversion a process like sanctification? Explain.
  • 6. When a child is professing and repenting, is that a sign of a regenerated heart?
  • 7. Should I not have anymore children, so that I will not possibly give birth to a soul bound for hell?
  • 8. Explain your optimism that young children (babies and unborn) will go to heaven?
  • 9. Explain how you did family quiet time. Give examples.
  • 10. How do you suggest we present the idea of hell to preschoolers?
  • 11. Where do I start as a parent with all this information presented at the Legacy Conference?

 

The World Trade Center and Our First Acts

The wilting sadness of the World Trade Center tragedy—the dead bodies in the dust, the people jumping out of windows, the angst of the traumatized, the weary searching, the yearning eyes of family members, the apparent senselessness of it all—leave disturbing imprints on our American soul. What are we to do?

First, we should pity all who do not know Christ. We will all die, but not all will die in such a tragic manner. Some who perished are now in heaven. How many were prepared for that we will not know now. But others met this untimely death without preparation. I can think of nothing more tragic than that. If we weep, and we certainly must, let us weep for the tragedy in terms of eternity.

Second, we should pray for a revival of genuine Christianity. In my library I have a secular book describing the awful financial failure in 1857 here in our country. It was devastating, and Americans reeled under that blow. However, this depressed state prepared the country for the last great movement of God in the 1858 prayer revival. Some estimate as many as a million people were brought to Christ during a two-year span. Could it be that this “was intended for evil, but God meant it for good”? (see Gen. 50:20)

Third, we should pray for wisdom for our leaders. Christians, of all people, are in a position to petition God for help in what may be a difficult and strenuous military ordeal. Our leaders need God’s perspective. We have access to God through Christ and we should use our access to the highest throne in the universe to pray for them. God forbid that we should fail them in this task.

Fourth, we should comfort. God is the “God of all comfort.” We should offer words and deeds to those who cannot process this grief. Our touch and our words may actually avert bitterness and produce positive good. Compassion is a good word and a better act. Our compassion will teach a future generation not to be cynical, when the media is constantly desensitizing them.

Our perspective on this tragedy will likely be very different than our friends and associates. We believe God controls the world to the good end of glorifying Himself. We believe God sends important messages through disaster. But these ends are not understood or appreciated in our biblically illiterate day. Let’s first of all offer our love and concern, then, as our friends are able to process it, we will be able to speak of the sovereignty of God over all the nations of the world toward a purposeful end.

 

Five Resolves For Personal Revival

A tool for bringing biblical discipline into the life “for the purpose of godliness”.
Availabe to read/print online here or as a formatted, downloadable bulletin insert here.

Thirty-five Reasons Not To Sin – By Jim Elliff. A rationale for practical holiness.
Available as a downloadable bulletin insert here.

The Unrepenting Repenter – By Jim Elliff. A four page card encouraging self-examination regarding biblical vs. incomplete repentance.
Available to print from your browser here.

The Integrity of the Local Church – By Jim Elliff, A call to leaders to maintain the soundness of the church’s spiritual union. 14 pp.
Available to print from your browser here.

Childhood Conversion – By Jim Elliff, What to observe and how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the conversion of children. 9 pp.
Available online here.

The Eaglet – By Jim Elliff. Vividly illustrated story explaining true faith and repentance. Illustrated by Caffy Whitney. 24 pp.
Available online here.

A Pictorial Survey of the Bible – By Buz McNutt. 36 Graphic depictions for easy grasp of the history of the Bible. Great for kids and adults.
Available online here.

An Intimate Hour With God – A tool that guides you or a group through an hour of prayer. May also be used daily or for special occasions, retreats, days of prayer, camp prayer time, church prayer meetings, etc.
Available online here.

Travel/Financial Policies

Many people ask us what our financial policy is for the speaking ministry of Jim Elliff, our founder and president. This is a brief explanation. Other questions may be answered by communicating directly with Jim at the following address:

Jim speaks at churches and conferences without remuneration. All of the CCW booklet distribution is free of charge also. In certain cases, for items not printed by CCW (i.e. books by other publishers), items will be sold for cost. Jim prearranges not to receive love offerings or honoraria for compensation for his speaking, either for himself or the ministry. It is obvious that money comes to the ministry, and to Jim through CCW, in other ways, but we do not intend to take such as payment for our services. It is Jim’s intention to give to others as freely as he has received from God.

It is the board’s request that you not violate this principle, even by delaying the gift. We will assume that any monies sent following a meeting falls into a category other than compensation. It is important to say here that this policy is in no way an indication of lack of gratitude for your desire to give, but is a policy that Jim has lived by in an attempt to demonstrate that God alone can answer prayer and provide all that is needed for the ministry and his own family.
We also ask that you not solicit money for Jim. It is the ministry’s stated policy that all gifts will come to us in answer to prayer and not by solicitation, either from its workers or from the pastors and leaders in the churches and conferences where Jim speaks. We do understand that our policy has to be stated to the appropriate people or groups when they need to understand. It has been an exciting journey for Jim to see how God can open the hearts of individuals and groups to contribute to the ongoing work of CCW without asking anyone but God.
We do ask that the church or organization, where possible, cover Jim’s travel and lodging. If this is an impossibility, please let us know and the ministry will gladly cover that expense as well. Usually Jim lets the church or ministry order the plane ticket. He prefers an aisle seat if available.
Occasionally a person will come to the pastor or leader on their own (unsolicited) desiring to give to Jim or to CCW. Since it is the ministry’s policy to receive unsolicited funds in answer to prayer, these gifts may be received. That gift may, in fact, be a very special answer to prayer! It should be noted that Jim and his family receive gifts personally only if they are designated as such. Christian Communicators Worldwide uses all undesignated checks for its operations and publications. It is helpful if either designated or undesignated checks be made out to CCW. It is permissible for these unsolicited gifts to be first given through the church or organization before being sent. A note indicating that the check contains unsolicited moneys is helpful. If you are able to indicate who provided the funds, then we can send a thank you.
Generally it is best to lodge Jim in a non-smoking motel room, giving the best possibility for preparation and prayer. We realize that this is not always possible. Jim is happy to stay in a home if best for those who have invited him. It is always helpful if Jim can have as private a place as possible though. It is easy to understand that thoughtful accommodations are a great help since Jim is away from home so often.
Jim enjoys fellowship around the table with pastors, leaders, and the people of the churches and conferences he attends. Normally eating after the evening speaking engagement works best. However, this is not always possible. You may discuss this with Jim before his coming.
Jim takes along a family member or intern on each trip. This means that lodging and meals for one additional person would be included in your expense. At times Jim is able to take his entire family, especially when on an extended tour. Please inform Jim if this is understood or if there are any problems making this impossible. This arrangement allows Jim to continue to minister both to his family and those he is mentoring while on the road.
The board of CCW realizes that these financial and travel policies are somewhat unusual. Jim certainly does not expect that other conference speakers should follow his method, nor does he feel spiritually superior by doing it this way. He is concerned that the Lord be honored in the way this ministry is conducted and that a testimony be given to the greatness of God.

The Board of Directors

 

Sanctifying Reason

Much of the argument in this book has been linked to what I have called “sanctified reason.” What does this term mean? As you have seen, I am rooted to the position that reason and Scripture are systemic and essential to sound decision-making. I am not constrained to limit God’s activity to that alone—God can do as he wishes—but the rational approach is the normal way.

We are to actually think through the given situation, wrestle with the options, weigh them, sift them, ponder the implications and consequences, and we are to do all of this in the light of truth as we find it in the Scriptures interpreted in context. And we presume, underneath all of this, God is working.

But if reason is unaided, if it is mere reason by itself, it will do little good. Reason standing alone might lead us to some sort of workable resolution, but it carries the liability of doing so without pleasing God. That circumstance is as unsatisfying to us as it is unsatisfactory to God.

God is always and only pleased with faith. (Hebrews 11:6) To sanctify our reasoning process is to yield to his infinite wisdom and to expect from him every ounce of help that is necessary to make a decision that is both wise and pleasing to him. If faith is anything it is an attentive and conscious recognition of God’s place in all the details of life.

We are to deliberately place our rational faculties at the feet of God. In the same way that one walks out of one room and into another, believers are told to “come before his presence” (Psalm 95:2). By this the writers of the Bible intend to convey that there is a “manifested presence” of God, which is that nearness of God that is experienced or felt. Lovers of God should not be satisfied with only the bare fact that God is everywhere, but should seek his face. And we must do so with an open Bible.

It is true that God works in us “to will and to do,” but this is no excuse for failing to consciously bring our thoughts captive to God—rather, for the believer, the undercurrent of the Spirit’s work within us is seen to be the very reason we will do so.

It is part of loving the Lord with all of your mind (see Mark 12:30) and setting your mind on the things above (see Colossians 3:2) for the Christian to habituate himself to thinking his thoughts after God’s. However, in the case of determining just exactly what God would have us do in a specific matter, there is motive to be even more intentional about it.

Placing a matter before God so as to seek his presence and to rest in his intervention, is to greatly reduce the options before us. While waiting on God, we often find that God simplifies our choices. There have been many times that I have come to him with a discomfiting jumble of options only to find that spending some period in his presence reduces my selection down to just two—and then, one. I am thinking out my thoughts before God, sometimes with a list of pros and cons, under the brilliant floodlight of the Word. Müller had something to say about this way God works:

God guides, not by a visible sign, but by swaying the judgment. To wait before Him, weighing candidly in the scales every consideration for or against a proposed course, and in readiness to see which way the preponderance lies, is a frame of mind and heart in which one is fitted to be guided; and God touches the scales and makes the balance to sway as He will. But our hands must be off the scales; otherwise we need expect no interposition of His in our favor.

The hazards of becoming a mere rationalist are obvious. We must be as vigilant to avoid running aground on that sandbar as we are of being swept over the waterfall of mysticism. The guided believer recognizes the decided value of appropriately relating to Christ and not just assuming, in a casual way, the blessing of God on his thinking. You need God. And the Father is far more likely to help you when you recognize the fundamental issue of our total poverty of thought apart from him.

We are not independent thinkers anymore. That describes our old life. Now we are to be God-saturated and Scripture-oriented thinkers.

 

The Unrepenting Repenter

The believer in Christ is a lifelong repenter.  He begins with repentance and continues in repentance. (Rom. 8:12-13) David sinned giant sins but fell without a stone at the mere finger of the prophet because he was a repenter at heart (2 Sam. 12:7-13). Peter denied Christ three times but suffered three times the remorse until he repented with bitter tears (Mt. 26:75). Every Christian is called a repenter, but he must be a repenting repenter. The Bible assumes the repentant nature of all true believers in its instruction on church discipline. A man unwilling to repent at the loving rebuke of the church can be considered nothing more than “a heathen and a tax collector.” (Mt. 18:15-17)

What is repentance?
Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God, an inward turning from sin to God, which is known by its fruit—obedience. (Mt. 3:8; Acts 26:20; Lk. 13:5-9) It is hating what you once loved and loving what you once hated, exchanging irresistible sin for an irresistible Christ. The true repenter is cast on God. Faith is his only option. When he fully knows that sin utterly fails him, God takes him up. (Mt. 9:13b) He will have faith or he will have despair; conviction will either deliver him or devour him.

The religious man often deceives himself in his repentance. The believer may sin the worst of sins, it is true; but to remain in the love of sin, or to be comfortable in the atmosphere of sin, is a deadly sign, for only repenters inhabit heaven. The deceived repenter would be a worse sinner if he could, but society holds him back. He can tolerate and even enjoy other worldly professing Christians and pastors well enough, but does not desire holy fellowship or the fervent warmth of holy worship. If he is intolerant of a worship service fifteen minutes “too long,” how will he feel after fifteen million years into the eternal worship service of heaven? He aspires to a heaven of lighthearted ease and recreation—an extended vacation; but a heaven of holiness would be hell to such a man. Yet God is holy, and God is in heaven. He cannot be blamed for sending the unholy man to hell despite his most articulate profession (Heb. 12:14).

What are the Substitutes for true Repentance?

1. You may reform in the actions without repenting in the heart. (Ps. 5 1: 16-17; Joel 2:13) This is a great deception, for the love of sin remains. (I Jn. 2:15-17; Acts 8:9-24) At this the Pharisees were experts. (Mk. 7:1-23) The heart of a man is his problem. A man may appear perfect in his actions but be damned for his heart. His actions are at best self-serving and hypocritical. What comes from a bad heart is never good. “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” (Jas. 3:11-12)

2. You may experience the emotion of repentance without the effect of it. Here is a kind of amnesia. You see the awful specter of sin in the mirror and flinch out of horror yet immediately forget what kind of person you saw (Jas. 1:23-24). It is true, repentance includes sincere emotion, an affection for God and a disaffection for sin. Torrents of sorrow may flood the repenter’s heart, and properly so (Jas. 4:8-10). But there is such a thing as a temporary emotion in the mere semblance of repentance; this emotion has very weak legs and cannot carry the behavior in the long walk of obedience. Your sorrow may even be prolonged. Yet if it does not arrive at repentance, it is of the world and is a living death—and maybe more (2 Cor. 7: 10). It is an old deceiver. Judas had such remorse but “went and hanged himself.” (Mt. 27:3-5)

3. You may confess the words of a true repenter and never repent. (Mt. 21:28-32; 1 Jn. 2:4, 4:20) Confession by itself is not repentance. Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true change of heart. There are those who confess only for the show of it, whose so-called repentance may be theatrical but not actual. If you express repentance to appear successful, you will not be successful at repenting. You will speak humbly but sin arrogantly. Saul gave the model confession (I Sam. 15:24-26) and later went to hell. Repentance “from the teeth out” is no repentance.

4. You may repent for the fear of reprisal alone and not for the hatred of sin. Any man will stop sinning when caught or relatively sure he will be, unless there is insufficient punishment or shame attached (I Tim. 1:8-11). When there are losses great enough to get his attention, he will reform. If this is the entire motive of his repentance, he has not repented at all. It is the work of law, but not grace. Men can be controlled by fear, but what is required is a change of heart. Achan admitted his sin after being caught but would not have otherwise. Find his bones in the valley of Achor; his soul, most likely, in hell. (Josh. 7:16-26)

5. You may talk against sin in public like a true repenter but never repent in private. (Mt. 23:1-3) The exercise of the mouth cannot change the heart. Your sin is like a prostitute. You are speaking against your lover in public but embracing her in the bedroom. She is not particular about being run down in public if she can have your full attention in private. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (Jas. 4:4)

6. You may repent primarily for temporal gains rather than the glory of God. There are gains for the repenter, but the final motivation for repenting cannot be selfish. Self is a dead, stinking carcass to be discarded. We are to repent because God is worthy and is our respected authority, even if we gain nothing. Indeed, our repenting may appear to lose us more than our sin had gained. (Mt. 16:24-26; Phil. 3:7-8) And this is a test of true repentance.

7. You may repent of lesser sins for the purpose of avoiding the greater sins. (Lk. 11:42) We try to salve our nagging conscience by some minor exercise of repentance, which is really no repentance at all. The whole heart is changed in the believer. The half repenter is a divided man: part against sin and part for it; part against Christ, part for Him. But one or the other must win out, for man cannot serve God and mammon (or any other idol); he must love the one and hate the other. (Mt. 6:24)

8. You may repent so generally that you never repent of any specific sin at all. The man who repents in too great a generality is likely covering his sins. (Prov. 28:13) If there are no particular changes, there is no repenting. Sin has many heads, like the mythological Hydra. It cannot be dealt with in general, but its heads must be cut off one by one.

9. You may repent for the love of friends and religious leaders and not repent for the love of God. (Isa. 1: 10-17) A man talked into repentance may reform for the love of friends or the respect of the spiritually minded, yet do nothing substantial. If a man turns from sin without turning to God, he will find his sin has only changed its name and is hidden behind his pride. Now it will be harder to rout for its subterfuge. You have loved others but not God. And you have loved yourself most of all. Lot’s wife left the city of sin at the insistence of an angel and for the love of her family, but turned back. She had left her heart. “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Gen. 19:12-26; Lk. 17:32)

10. ‘You may confess the finished action of sin and not repent from the continuing habit of sin. If a man is honest, he is a good man in human terms; but he is not a repenting man until the sin is stabbed to death. He must be a murderer if he would be God’s: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8: 13) God knows what you have done; what He wants is obedience. (Lk. 6:46)

11. You may attempt repentance of your sin while consciously leaving open the door of its opportunity. A man who says ” I repent” but will not leave the source or environment of that sin is suspect. Though some situations which invite temptation cannot be changed, most can. A man who will not flee the setting of his temptation when he is able still loves his sin. A mouse is foolish to build his nest under the cat’s bed. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)

12. You may make an effort to repent of some sins without repenting of all the sin you know. The businessman learns to show concern for the needs of his clients, yet he batters his wife through neglect. Another gives his money in the offering plate weekly but steals time from his employer daily. Every man boasts of some sins conquered, but true repentance is a repulsion of sin as a whole. The repenter hates all sin, though he fails more readily in some than in others. He may not know all his sins, but what he knows he spurns. Repentance is universal in the believer; the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41).

Repentance and faith are bound together. A repenting man has no hope for obedience without faith in the source of all holiness, God Himself. In repenting of sins, he loses his self-sufficiency. God is his sanctifier. (Jude 24-25; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 1:5)
Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:25) and a duty of man (Acts 17:30; Lk. 13:3). You will know if it has been granted by the exercise of it. (Phil. 2:12-13) Do not wait for it; run toward it. “Be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19) Pursue it and you will find it; forget it and perish.

Reformation or Revival?

If you have been around me very long, you have heard me emphasize that the crying need, the absolutely desperate need of the hour, is reformation. You have also been aware that for years I have also longed for revival. Recently I was asked what the difference actually is, if any, between revival and reformation. This is an important question worthy of your precious time to think it through.

Though many are blinded to the current dilemma, the fact is that a sound and lively truth-basis has been ejected from the premises of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has been dispossessed of truth to such an extent that it is becoming frightening.

In its place experience and mysticism are house-sitting the church or, if not these, then church growth pragmatism or an unhealthy preoccupation with the psychological. But the necessary doctrines of the holiness of God and His just wrath, justification by faith alone, the transforming nature of regeneration, the sovereignty of God over all of creation and in salvation itself, the nature and extent of grace in justification and in sanctification—doctrines upon which the earlier revivals thrived—have been considered unimportant and useful only for wizened old theologs holed up in ivory towers who do not relate to the church’s future.

Many are unaware that Jonathan Edwards was preaching a series on justification by faith alone when revival came to New England, or that the many of the Scottish revivals, for instance, were precipitated by the preaching of series on regeneration, or that the highly doctrinal book of Romans has an illustrative history as a tool of great revival of the kind I am speaking. Sound doctrine was at the core of revival. But sadly, to large numbers of evangelicals, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what we believe, only that we are feeling something or enjoying any number of the other substitutes for biblical Christianity.

On such a foundation, does it make sense to revive the experience of believers alone? To revive a church’s experience alone when it has a mushy and insufficient doctrinal foundation is only to magnify our problems, to give credence to error, and to expand what got us into trouble in the first place.

Because of this dilemma, let me make an easily misunderstood statement: Revival, as we commonly understand it, would be ill spent on such doctrinally deficient churches as we find today. This may seem a strange comment to make since I, like many of you, have actually hoped for and preached for revival. But my conviction has to do with the usual, one-sided understanding of revival prevalent in most circles. As A. W. Tozer said, “A revival of the kind of Christianity which we have had in America the last fifty year would be the greatest tragedy of this century, a tragedy which would take the church a hundred years to get over.”

Merely bringing to vibrancy or bringing to life the experience of the believer alone may be extremely useful for dead orthodoxy—orthodox or correct belief without life. But we do not, on the main, have dead orthodoxy today. We have live heterodoxy. Hetero means “other” or “different.” Heterodoxy is divergent or even heretical belief. Reformation is that word we use to speak to the recovery of the correct doctrines and their vigorous application to all of life.

We should not want a revival of experience alone without true reformation. And so the term revival is not adequate for our day unless we add the qualifiers “reformational” or “word-driven.” It is not wrong to desire revival if we mean a revival that is a resurgence of correct believing along with the enlivening of our experience with God which comes out of (not apart from) that sound doctrine. This means that I believe the most long-lasting change would not come by only having merely warm, or even powerful, dramatic experiences with God. No, what is needed is for some of the major organizations and churches, for instance, to reshape their view of the gospel to conform to the Bible.

I pick this issue of the nature of the gospel, from among many choices, because the “gospel” which is being preached is resulting in such massive fallout (sometimes as high as 90% or more in certain campaigns) that failure to re-think doctrinally the nature of the gospel is one of the great anomalies of our day. But, unfortunately, if you gather the leaders of many of the religious organizations together today, they would make a very definite point of not discussing what they believe. Their aim, in terms of revival today, is to see more experience, or more expansive growth. I do not mean that anyone is malicious in this oversight, but somehow the importance of reformation is just not sinking in.

This incognizance explains why the theologians almost never invite the parachurch leaders to their meetings, and the leaders, who are planning and writing the future of evangelicalism, almost never get the theologians to speak to them about the message they are promulgating. There are exceptions which could be noted, but, in the main, we are really failing to help each other by going our own way.

Now, to clarify, I am not saying that experience with God is not useful or desirable. Remember that I said dead orthodoxy needs experience with God. And if that is a description of you, then you know just what you need. I don’t doubt the extreme value of renewed experience with God. What I am saying is that experience is the servant or handmaiden of the truth, and first things should be first.

If you shoot past truth to get to experience, then you will have at best something very limited and immediate only, something which, in the final case, will produce a greater heteropraxis (wrong living). Heterodoxy always leads to heteropraxis. God has already instructed us as to how transformation of behavior is to take place. It is through the truth, not by mere experience. “Sanctify them by Your truth; Your Word is truth.” Jn. 17:17.

Perhaps it will help to illustrate through the recent and rather short-term season of public confession which affected many of our schools and churches. Sadly, in the midst of this wonderful and blessed activity, there was the distinct desire, perhaps in more cases than we would like to admit, to suspend preaching or teaching of the Word in favor of on-going experience. Now I believe God brought the conviction we saw, and I believe that it is possible for a group to experience times of confession within biblical sanctions, but a major mark of the recent work was the stark absence of the centrality of preaching.

During this period of public confession, it seemed to be a matter of excitement in the testimony of people that there was no preaching at all. It was as if preaching was unnecessary, that truth explained would actually get in the way of the work of the Spirit. Compare this to the early church in the New Testament during their inaugural revival. These people would hang on to Paul’s teaching through whole nights if possible!

Again, I am quite happy to believe that God was involved in much of what happened, and we should all be thankful for that, but it is possible, unwittingly, to fail to obey God in our handling of this great blessing of conviction and Divine presence. You will find nothing like such minimizing of preaching, for instance, in the Great Awakening or other earlier revivals before the mid-1800’s. And even if we could point to a work of God here and there with a reduced emphasis on the preaching of the Word, our present dilemma would still demonstrate the need for such a reforming work of God. It is not just great experience over a few days or even weeks that will rectify our situation, but a complete re-orientation to truth and a return to thinking and doctrine.

Experience-driven revival is more like a flash flood than a mighty river. Heightened experience certainly leaves its mark, some of which may be good wherever it meets orthodoxy, but a reformational revival is a life-giving river which has continuing positive effects. When reformation takes place, the conviction is not just over our behavioral sinfulness but over wrong doctrine (or simply apathy toward pursuing truth itself) as well. As Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and author, Dr. Don Whitney, said to me, “We must repent of our doctrine as well as our lives.”

 

October 31st, 1517 Wittenburg, Germany

It was October 31st, 1517 in Wittenburg, Germany.

Martin grasped a hammer and a long piece of paper covered with his writing. He walked out into the street and straight over to the castle church door. It was here that community messages were often posted.

Martin nailed his 95 points of discussion on the door. He only wanted to lay out his newly discovered views of the Bible to other church leaders in the Medieval Catholic church. He thought he was free to do so even though his thoughts were radical. After all, he was an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology.

Martin called himself a “stinking bag of maggots,” and certainly did not dream of being a leader in a revolution of thinking in Germany and across Europe that shaped history in a powerful way. But God had determined something far bigger than the monk Martin Luther expected when he penned those 95 Theses.

Without his knowledge someone printed his words on the newly invented Gutenburg press, distributing it all over Germany. Within a very few days, Martin found that he was the subject of everyone’s thoughts. In the cathedrals and great stone castles of his homeland, the pubs and peasant’s cottages—everyone was talking about the views of Luther. Without a signal to announce it, the Protestant Reformation had begun!

Just what was the Protestant Reformation all about? What did Luther and others protest?

The protesters were seeing something new about how a person is accepted by God—that is, new to them. They protested that the church had been teaching the wrong view about the most important issue of life. They discovered that the Bible says we are not accepted on the basis of our religious deeds, or even our good deeds along with our faith, but that we are accepted before a holy God only through faith in Christ.

“Through faith alone in Christ alone” began to be heard all over Europe. The people must transfer their confidence for salvation in the church’s religious traditions to Christ alone. The reformers wanted the people to return to the Bible’s plain teaching on how to be a true Christian. Because heaven and hell were at stake, the passions rose very high. Many would be persecuted and some even killed for this truth. But through it all, tens of thousands of people were converted to Christ and were assured of heaven.

We have been feeling the effects of the Protestant Reformation ever since. Many of our churches have their historical roots in the Reformation. Returning to the Bible as the source of understanding about how we are to relate to God has shaped nations. Perhaps no other religious period since the coming of Christ has been so influential as this one.

But many people, and even many churches, have forgotten the great lessons that were made so clear beginning on October 31, 1517. What difference can this mean to you nearly 500 years later?

This passage from the Bible is a good place to start. It describes God’s way to understand salvation:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

Through these 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, and throughout time, men and women, youth and children have come to Christ in this simple way—through faith alone in Christ alone. Placing our full confidence in Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death for sinful people is the only way to God. It is not that good works are not important—they are a result of true faith in every believer’s life. But those works cannot save. Salvation is a gift of grace, not a reward for trying to be good.

Like Martin Luther, you may come by faith alone to Christ alone even now, all these years later. In fact, this is the very way the first New Testament believers came to Him!

An Intimate Hour with God

The Lord invites us to know Him better. What a privilege! If the joy of heaven is in knowing the Lord’s presence without any sin to hinder us, surely seeking His presence now must be the greatest possible pursuit.

Do you feel your need to pray? A person who has no need to pray cannot be living by faith. Prayerless-ness says, “I am sufficient in myself for everything required of me.” But is that so? And do you not grieve God by your persistent self-sufficiency? The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Heb. 11:6).

The following suggestions are designed to help you spend an extended time in prayer and meditation with God. You may spend this hour alone or with others. The order is not essential, but does provide a helpful way to progress. This tool may be used daily or for special times of retreat with God. Some may wish to follow this hour with more intense Bible reading.

It is sometimes good to kneel or to lie down before the Lord. “Come let us bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our God, our Maker.” (Ps. 95: 6) Walking while praying can also be helpful, or sitting in a comfortable chair so that all the focus can be on God. Be sure and find a quiet place.

1. Come in Christ’s Name

The audience we have with the Father is entirely based upon the merits of Christ. In other words, it is solely because Christ lived perfectly, died satisfactorily, and rose again victoriously for us that we have the privilege of addressing the Father. Because God accepts Christ, He can accept us in Him. “…He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1: 6b)

Don’t just say the words, but actually trust in Christ as your mediator. Express in some detail your dependence on Christ’s worthiness and on His substitutionary work on your behalf.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ….For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2:13, 18)

2. Delight in Him

Express your wonder and delight in God. Praise Him for His character and His power. Do not thank him at this time for His activity in your life, but focus on the person of God and His attributes: His Love, Patience, Immensity, Strength, Holiness, Grace, Glory, Knowledge, Wisdom, Goodness, etc.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37: 4)

3. Express Your Longings to Him

Tell God what you desire above all other things. Express your deepest longings for fellowship with Him and for holiness of life, or whatever is in your heart. This is not a time to pray about everything you need, but to make known your deepest, long-term desires. You may wish to personalize Ephesians 1: 15-23 as a guide.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Ps. 42: 1-2a)

4. Read a Psalm

You may wish to use one of the “Psalms for the day,” according to the day of the month. Add 30 to the day of the month to arrive at 5 Psalms for the day (i.e. on the 15th, the Psalms would be 15, 45, 75, 105, and 135). It may be helpful to read the Psalm you choose out loud.

5. Sing to Him

Use a hymnbook, recall a chorus or hymn from memory, or make up your own song from the Scriptures.

“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing.” (Ps. 100: 1-2)

6. Intercede for Others

Remember…
Those who have asked you to pray for them
The leaders of your church
The missionaries you know
The leaders of our country
Those who are unsaved
Your family members
Your friends
Those in trouble or grieving, etc.
“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you…” (1 Sam. 12: 23)

7. Place Your Day Before Him

If you are praying in the morning, you may wish to place every aspect of the day before the Lord, one item at a time. “Lord, please give me patience with my daughter when she comes to breakfast, help me show her love and kindness.” “Lord, when I try to make that sale at 2:00 this afternoon, help me to speak as a Christian would speak, and give me wisdom.” By going chronologically through every possible event of the day, you are learning trust Him in the details of life.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Pr. 3: 5-6)

8. Petition Him for Other Special Needs

There are matters needing attention in your own life and in the lives of others, the church or your group. Tell these to God and ask for His guidance, deliverance, endurance, wisdom, or whatever it is that you need. It is at this time that you will want to deal with any repentance God is requiring. Expect Him to give you grace to overcome. “Be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3: 19b) Ask with faith and genuine humility.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4: 16)

“…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn. 16: 24b)

9. Meditate on His Word

To meditate means to ponder, reflect, contemplate, or think over slowly, the Words of God. If this is your only Bible reading time, continue reading the passage that is next for you in your plan. Read at least a chapter of Scripture. Look for the key verses and meditate on them, asking God to show you what they mean. Mark them in your Bible and ask God to help you remember what He is showing. Pray that He will give you a way to humbly share these truths with others. Read to obey.

If you are in a group, allow a period of quiet so that each person may read the Word. The leader may wish to suggest the passage for use with the group. If there is time, insights may be shared with each other.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Ps. 1: 1-3)

10. Offer Thanks to Him

Even if there have been difficulties in your life, the Lord has been good to you. Express to God your appreciation for specific acts of kindness He has done in the light of what you truly deserve.

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13: 15)

You may help others learn how to pray by copying this guide and leading others through it, adding your own personal insights. See if God will use you to make intercessors for the Kingdom. Copyright © 2000 Jim Elliff. Permission granted to photocopy in exact form, including copyright. All other uses require written permission. Write Christian Communicators Worldwide, 201 Main, Parkville, MO 64152 This publication may be downloaded from our web site at WWW.CCWonline.org .