Are You Hindering Your Prayers?

Have you ever considered the power that is available to us through prayer? In prayer, we can reach out to the One who made the entire universe. James reminds us of Elijah’s powerful prayers when he states, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17-18). Jesus teaches His disciples that by prayer, they can cast out demons and move mountains (Matthew 17:14-21). Through prayer we may receive healing (2 Kings 20:1-5) and seek healing for others (Acts 28:7-10). The early church received boldness to share the gospel as a result of their prayers (Acts 4:23-31).

This power would not be available to us if it had not been for the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sins had separated us from God so that He would not hear our prayers (Isaiah 59:1-2). Yet, for those who trust in Jesus, God forgives their sins and hears their prayers (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Apart from saving faith in Christ, God does not hear anyone’s prayers. But the moment a person believes on Jesus Christ for salvation, God hears his or her cry. Therefore, we have a costly and precious gift to thank God for in our ability to pray.

Yet, we also realize that as believers, we can hinder our prayers.  Therefore we want to be cautious and take time to evaluate our lives and prayers to make sure that they are unhindered. I’d like to share four ways we can hinder our prayers.

Image result for prayer

First, you can hinder your prayers by unrepentant sin. James says, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Is there unconfessed sin in your life? Is there a habit in your life that cannot be described as “righteous”? Confess your sins to the Lord and confess them to a trusted brother or sister in Christ that he or she may also pray for you. Healing does not come without confessing our sins. Peter likewise communicates that sinful behavior hinders our prayers. He warns, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way…so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

Second, you can hinder your prayers by praying with wrong, worldly motives. James states, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? (James 4:2-4). Christians are called to put to death the desires of our flesh (Colossians 3:5). It is a strange and inappropriate request when a Christian prays with worldly desires for worldly gain. What desires have been driving your prayers lately? Are you seeking the things above or the things below?

Third, you can hinder your prayers by neglecting to pray in Jesus’ name. John records Jesus’ teaching: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? It doesn’t just mean to tag the phrase “in Jesus’ name” on the end of your prayer before you say “Amen.” It means to pray in accordance with Jesus’ character and will. It means to pray a prayer that pleases Him. When God saves us, He changes us so that we start to desire obedience to Him above all else (Ezekiel 36:27). Are your prayers driven by a desire to please, honor, and obey Jesus? Are you praying for the salvation of the lost? Are you praying for the maturity of the church? One preacher said, “I fear that we spend more time praying saints out of heaven than we do praying sinners in.” Now, I don’t want to discourage us from praying for physical healing—that is very important and God cares for our physical situation (1 Peter 5:7). But praying for the salvation of the lost and the obedience of the saved are even greater concerns.

Fourth, we hinder our prayers by having little faith in Jesus. When a man whose son was demon possessed came to Jesus to request healing for his son, Jesus responded, “All things are possible to him who believes.” The man cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” When Jesus’ disciples asked why they could not cast the demon out, Jesus responded, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:14-28). God desires to answer prayers that are asked with faith in Jesus Christ. I think it greatly honors the Lord when we pray like the man whose son was demon-possessed. Will you pray, “I do believe, help my unbelief”? Remember, it is impossible to please God without faith in Jesus (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you want to be a prayer warrior like Epaphras who wrestled in prayer for the Colossians? (Col 4:12). How would such a prayer life affect your family? How would it affect your church and community? Consider the great power we have when we pray unhindered prayers to the One who created everything! Happy praying!

False Gospels of Appalachia

Our church recently hosted an evangelism conference called The Proclaimer Conference. At this conference, I led a breakout session entitled False Gospels of Appalachia which focused on identifying and responding to false gospels which one may run into while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Appalachia. This breakout session was well-attended and well-received. My fear has been that people would attend my breakout only to satiate a curiosity about Appalachian culture. However, my goal has been to offer practical help for those sharing the gospel in a very religious (but not necessarily regenerate) American subculture. Due to time constraints, I had to limit my discussion to seven false gospels prominent in Appalachia (and particularly Central Appalachia). In the discussion of each false gospel, I provide a description, problems, typical indicators, Biblical and theological corrections, and a response. I’ve had a few people who could not attend the conference or the breakout session who asked for my notes and so I have decided to publish them here.

My original notes (which I provided for the attenders) were rough and needed some small revisions which I have made in what is provided here. As I continue to learn and teach on this topic, I will likely keep revising. These notes are not intended to be academic writing as they were prepared for presentation in the setting of a local church. As I taught the breakout, I added personal illustrations of dealing with these false gospels. My notes are largely based on my experience as an Appalachian pastor. I hope you find them to be helpful in considering how you share the gospel among this people group of whom some will join the eternal meta-cultural chorus for eternity (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10), hopefully with mountain dulcimers, banjos, and fiddles in hand.

Discover the beauty of Appalachia on a Smoky Mountains hiking trip

False Gospels of Appalachia

Presented at Vansant Baptist Church in Vansant, VA for The Proclaimer Conference on June 28, 2019.


Common Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • “Our church doesn’t focus on doctrine we just worship the Lord.”
  • “Doctrine is divisive!”
  • “I don’t care much about studying doctrine. I want to get down to the practical.”
  • How do you react to the above statements?

New Testament Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
  • Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
  • 2 John 7-11, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
  • Galatians 1:6-9, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
  • Matthew 24:11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”
  • How important is doctrine according to Jesus, the Apostles, and the other NT writers?

False Gospels Prominent in Appalachia

  • The following is not a comprehensive list of the false gospels you will find in Appalachia.
    • Nor are all of these false gospels unique to Appalachian culture.
    • However, they tend to be prominent here.
  • When sharing the gospel, you will likely run into them.
    • Many of these false gospels are not always easy to recognize. Those who hold to them will make statements or actions that will feel odd to gospel-sharers. You will likely feel like “something is off but I just can’t place my finger on it.”
    • Remember, the best lies are those that are mixed with truth and twisted with truth.
    • e.g. – Genesis 3:1, 4
    • e.g.. – Luke 4:3, 6, 9-11 (cf. Psalm 91:11-12)

Easy Believism

  1. Description
    1. This false gospel teaches that salvation can come by faith (usually expressed through a prayer) that does not result in real life change.
    2. It rightly acknowledges that a person is justified by faith alone.
    3. Yet, it misunderstands the nature of faith and spiritual regeneration.
    4. Therefore, the faith it teaches is a false faith—an unbiblical kind of faith.
  2. Problem
    1. This false gospel gives a person false hope. He think because he ‘walked the aisle’ and ‘prayed a prayer’ he is right with God and is going to heaven. Therefore, the person has no urgency to become right with God.
    2. The lack of Biblical faith leaves the person in a state of lostness and under God’s wrath.
  3. Typical indicators
    1. A lack of repentance at the time of “decision” and a lack of life change after
    2. A disregard and neglect of the local church
    3. A life that is centered on something other than Christ
    4. A lack of concern for God’s will and obedience to God’s Word
    5. A conscience that lacks conviction when remaining in a sinful state
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Ezekiel 36:26-27, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
      1. Genuine faith is the means of salvation but not the cause of salvation
        1. God dispenses saving grace when a person genuinely trusts in Jesus
      2. Spiritual regeneration is the cause of salvation
        1. At the moment of faith, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit into the heart of the new believer causing the immediate aspects of salvation to take place.
      3. Matthew 12:33-35, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”
        1. Jesus expresses that a change of behavior gives evidence of one’s changed nature.
        2. One who remains the same after “making a decision for Christ,” has not placed Biblical faith in Jesus.
      4. Mark 8:34-37, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
        1. Biblical faith calls for and causes personal denial in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.
      5. Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
        1. Paul reveals here that Biblical faith recognizes Jesus as both Lord and Savior.
        2. A person must come to Jesus on Jesus’ terms, not on man’s terms.
          1. In other words, Jesus is not like a lunch buffet—one cannot pick and choose what he wants Jesus to be.
          2. If Jesus is not Lord to a person, He will never be a Savior to that person.
        3. James 1: 26; 2:14, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless… What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
          1. Biblical faith results in behavior that is pleasing to God
        4. A good resource concerning genuine saving faith: Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.
  5. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Call sinners to repentance
      1. Genuine saving faith always results in immediate repentance
    2. Be careful with the terms you use in speaking about salvation:
      1. “Faith” and “believe” are terms that have been appropriated in many ways in our culture and so have lost a great deal of power to communicate.
        1. “Trust” is term that better fits the Biblical idea of faith
      2. “Be saved” like the two previous terms has been widely appropriated and makes it difficult to communicate clearly.
        1. The person you’re sharing with may have a very different idea of “be saved” than you have.
        2. Also, if you use this term, you will need to explain it:
          1. Saved from what?
          2. By who?
          3. How?
      3. “Invite Jesus into your heart” cannot communicate the full significance of conversion.
        1. If you use this phrase, be sure to supplement it to include the other aspects of conversion.
      4. “Pray the prayer of salvation” may lead someone to think of prayer like a magical incantation which causes salvation.
        1. Be cautious in using this kind of language and explain that prayer is an expression of the faith.
        2. The prayer has no power in itself to save.
      5. “Surrender in faith” is a helpful expression which communicates well the ideas behind Biblical conversion to our culture.
      6. “Born again” can be a helpful term which is Biblical, communicates the change that happens, and can often open up the doors for a conversation.
        1. However, be ready to explain this term as it will often need unpacked.
    3. Be loving and honest.
      1. If someone is in the eternal danger of condemnation, we want warn them with love.
      2. It is sometimes appropriate to tell someone that his life does not match up with what the Bible says a saved person’s life will look like. God may use you to lead them to genuine salvation.
        1. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

Additions to or Substitutions of Christ’s Work


  1. Description
    1. Legalism is the requiring of (or belief in the requirement of) something in addition to faith in Jesus as a means to salvation.
      1. The requirement is typically a commandment of God which is turned into an attempt to earn favor with God. Appropriate obedience driven by gratitude for salvation has been abandoned.
    2. Legalism is not holding God’s commands in high regard and desiring to obey God. Nor is it expecting that churches and individual believers will desire to obey God’s commands. Obedience is an important sign of Biblical faith—not a sign of legalism.
    3. Whereas Easy Believism (at least practically) denies the necessity of work as evidence of salvation, legalism requires some sort of work as a means to salvation. Both heresies confuse the relationship of works and salvation.
  1. Problem
    1. Legalism underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. Legalism denies the significance of original sin and the doctrine of total depravity resulting in an overestimation of mankind’s ability to obey God.
    3. Legalism does not acknowledge one of the primary functions of God’s Law—to reveal man’s inability to live up to God’s standards.
    4. This results in a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s work.
    5. The faith that one has in Christ is not a Biblical faith and therefore, the person is still dead in his trespasses and sins and destined for condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A focus on one or a few acts of obedience (or added human rules) above all others
    2. A self-righteous attitude
    3. Lack of compassion toward those who genuinely trust in Jesus
    4. A prioritizing of seeing another condemned over guiding another to repentance and faith
      1. Think of the older brother in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Galatians 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
      1. Context: Judaizers (a type of Judeo-Christian legalists) had entered the Galatian church and were teaching that faith and circumcision were both necessary in order to be right with God.
        1. Consider the similar problem in Colossae when Paul responded in Colossians 2:16-3:4.
      2. The term justified is dikaioō which means to make righteous or to declare innocent
      3. God requires a righteousness that we cannot attain on our own efforts
        1. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”God imputes righteousness to those who surrender to Jesus in faith
    2. Galatians 3:2-5, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
      1. Paul’s argument here is that since a person can only come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, the only way to continue in salvation is to have faith in Jesus.
    3. Galatians 3:21-22; 24, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe… Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
      1. Paul continues his argument by explaining that the Mosaic Law was given to show mankind that we cannot earn God’s favor because we are unable to meet God’s standard.
      2. Therefore, the right response to the Mosaic Law is to humble oneself and cry out to God for a way of salvation. God provided the only way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
    4. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
      1. Paul briefly and clearly states that salvation cannot be merited by doing good works.
      2. Rather, salvation is attained only by grace provided through means of faith in Jesus.
      3. Verse ten explains that true salvation causes a person come under the craftsmanship of God in such a way that he is recreated into an obedient Jesus-follower.
  1. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Explain the concept of grace thoroughly
      1. In the context of salvation, the Greek word grace (charis) speaks of God’s compassion and favor toward those who, realizing their inability to meet God’s standard, humbly trust in Jesus Christ.
      2. Grace, by its very nature, cannot be earned or merited.
    2. Explain that God’s standard for acceptance is perfect righteous motives, attitudes, and actions.
      1. Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
        1. No one can say that he has always avoided these sins.
        2. Yet, those who have committed these sins will be eternally condemned.
      2. James 2:10-13, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
        1. James shows that, at the breaking of one command of God, the person has become a law-breaker to God.
      3. Guide the person to acknowledge that he has not met God’s standard
        1. The Ten Commandments can be helpful in this. Go through them one by one and ask the person if he has ever broken them, even once.
        2. Jesus used some of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to help the people realize that they could not meet God’s righteous standard. He focused on the attitude of the heart which results in the fruit of disobedience to the commandments.

Moralistic Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Moralistic salvation is very much like the heresy of legalism.
      1. However, unlike legalism, moralistic salvation is more focused on interactions with other people rather than following God’s commands or man-made religious rules.
    2. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation believe that because they do not harm others and/or because they do good for others, God will accept them.
  2. Problem
    1. This heresy faces similar problems to legalism.
    2. God’s holiness and justice are severely underestimated.
    3. Man’s ability to be good and righteous is greatly overestimated.
    4. Those who hold this view think they do not need reconciliation with God because they do enough good to keep on God’s good side.
    5. As a result, they are children of God’s wrath and will be eternal condemned.
  3. Typical Indicators
    1. This type of heresy is common in civic organizations and fraternal orders.
    2. I often call this The Good Ol’ Boy Salvation.
    3. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation tend to focus on actions which are perceived as good in their community
    4. Likewise, they will avoid things that are perceived as bad or hurtful by their community.
    5. Because this heresy does not focus on God’s direction, it tends toward a pragmatic attitude (i.e. “Ends justify the means” or “Let’s do whatever it takes” or “it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get it done”)
    6. When asked about their need for salvation, those who hold this view may indicate that they’ve never done anything that bad or that they’ve never really hurt anyone.
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Genesis 3: the first man and woman rebelled against God which caused a comprehensive corruption to enter into creation and especially all of mankind.
    2. Romans 5:12, 15b,18a, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… by the transgression of the one the many died…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
      1. All mankind descended from Adam and Eve.
      2. Conception did not take place until after the Fall of Genesis 3.
      3. Therefore, all mankind inherited a sinful nature from the first parents.
      4. All mankind agrees with that sinful nature by committing sin.
    3. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
    4. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
      1. Mankind’s attitudes, beliefs, and actions are corrupted and unacceptable to God.
    5. Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
    6. God will accept no one apart from Biblical faith in Jesus Christ.
    7. Matthew 19:16-26: The rich young ruler thought of himself as a basically good person. Yet, Jesus showed him that His heart was not surrendered to God. He needed God to save and change Him.
    8. Romans 3:10-18: Paul quotes several OT passages to show the universality of mankind’s depravity.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. This heresy can be addressed in the same way as legalism. However, it may be prudent to discuss grace after addressing God’s perfect standard and their inability to meet that standard.

Sacramental Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Sacramental salvation is a heresy in which one believes that God dispenses saving grace as the person participates in religious activities—especially activities known to these groups as sacraments or ordinances.
      1. Such activities seen to be the means of saving grace may include baptism, Lord’s Supper (aka Eucharist, Communion), foot washing, speaking in tongues (aka glossolalia), confession, confirmation, etc.
    2. Doctrinal Statements of those who espouse this heresy:
      1. “While, then, baptism is ordained for remission of sins, and for no other specific purpose, it is not as a procuring cause, as a meritorious or efficient cause, but as an instrumental cause, in which faith and repentance are developed and made fruitful and effectual in the changing of our state and spiritual relations to the Divine Persons whose names are put upon us in the very act” (Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptism, 256).
      2. “[T]he immediate duty of men pricked in the heart by a sense of guilt is to repent and be baptized; we would also know that this is what we are to do to be delivered from our guilt…remission of sins follows baptism, and is therefore to be expected by the baptized…the second blessing promised on condition of repentance and baptism, is the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (J.W. McGravy, New Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 38-39).
      3. “The fourth and final condition for salvation in the NT age is baptism…Most importantly, we affirm that the clear and specific teaching of the NT is that baptism is the time during which God graciously bestows upon the sinner the double cure of salvation. As such it is a divinely appointed condition for salvation during this New Covenant Era” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 359-362).
      4. “The saving gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. We obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17) by repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). (See I Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 2:4, 37-39; Romans 6:3-4.)” (Our Beliefs,, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      5. “SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement,, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. The participant must do something more (other than trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior) in order to coax God into saving him.
    2. This heresy rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s work
      1. Jesus’ death and resurrection were not enough to earn a sinner’s salvation
      2. Jesus’ ability as High Priest is often rejected
        1. Another mediator is needed between God and man.
        2. Either a church or a minister becomes the mediator between God and the sinner.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Requiring a process in which one must go through before being declared “saved.”
      1. This process is often communicated as certain “conditions” of salvation.
    2. The belief that salvation is attained at the “occasion” of the religious act rather than at the time one places faith in Jesus.
    3. An overemphasis upon “the church” in the process of salvation.
      1. The church is typically underemphasized in American culture at large in a very unbiblical way, yet with some of these groups, the church is necessary in imparting salvation upon the candidate.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Some of these groups point to the book of Acts in order to give Biblical evidence for their conditions for salvation.
      1. However, they confuse Luke’s intention in writing Acts.
        1. They often treat Acts as a Treatise on the doctrine of salvation.
        2. Rather, Luke’s intention is to show Christ’s work continued by the Holy Spirit through the church.
        3. In the book of Acts, Luke reveals a close association between faith, repentance, receiving the Holy Spirit, baptism, and forgiveness of sins. However, Luke portrays these aspects of Christian faith in differing orders throughout Acts.
        4. Luke was not attempting to give conditions or to teach the process of salvation in the kind of way that Paul does in Romans.
    2. Titus 3:5-7, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
      1. Paul reminds the church in Crete (through Titus) that salvation is bestowed not through works we do but by God’s grace.
      2. Here, Paul uses the image of washing to portray salvation.
        1. This provides evidence that ritual washings such as baptism are symbols (not conditions) of the spiritual reality—a cleansing of the soul by the Holy Spirit.
    3. 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
      1. Since there is one mediator between God and man—Jesus Christ, any doctrine of salvation which promotes a person other than Christ or a group of people who must perform an act upon the sinner for salvation to be enacted, rejects Christ as a sufficient High Priest and offers up a false and ineffective mediator.
    4. Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
      1. Paul is explaining that God’s covenant signs do not act as a means of salvation.
      2. Rather, faith alone is the means of salvation.
      3. Paul uses Abraham as an example that God imputes righteousness unto salvation at the time of the sinner’s faith. The sign of that salvation (in Abraham’s case, circumcision) only comes after faith begins and only after salvation has been granted.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Explain the sufficiency of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for salvation.
      1. While most of these groups state this explicitly, their practice and teachings regarding appropriating salvation contradict these statements.
    2. Focus on passages that address faith in Jesus as opposed to works, covenant signs, or religious actions, as the means for obtaining salvation.
    3. Refute the claim that Luke is attempting to show the procedure for procuring salvation in the book of Acts.
      1. New Testament scholar Robert Stein provides a helpful analogy of Luke’s portrayal of salvation and the events associated with salvation in Acts. He describes salvation in Acts as a wedding. Many elements are part of the ceremony and wedding day (weddings clothes, wedding party, walking down the aisle, wedding music, the exchanging of rings, the reception). Yet, these elements do not make two people married. One event amidst all of these creates a life-long marriage—the covenant vows. In the similar way, faith is like the vow. It is the means of being saved. Baptism is like the exchanging of the rings—a sign of the covenant but not the means for making the covenant. (Robert Stein, “Baptism in Luke-Acts” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright).


  1. Description
    1. Universalism is the belief that God will eventually save everyone.
    2. Such a belief makes faith in Jesus unnecessary for salvation.
    3. In central Appalachia, Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) teach this doctrine.
      1. There are only four PBU associations: Regular Primite Baptist Washington District Association, the Three Forks of Powell’s River Regular Primitive Baptist Association, and two Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Associations.
      2. PBU churches exist in the Southwest Virginia Counties of Buchanan, Tazwell, Russell, Dickenson, Wise, Scott, and Lee
    4. The other PBU churches can be found in the greater Tri-cities area of Northeastern Tennessee, Letcher County, KY, and McDowell and Greenbrier Counties in WV.
    5. PBU beliefs:
      1. PBU churches do not believe in a real, personal Satan. Instead, Satan is natural man fighting against spiritual man.
      2. God’s punishment for sin is only given in the present world and time. Hell is the suffering which mankind undergoes while on earth. Hell is not an eternal reality.
        1. This doctrine is while they are called “No-Hellers.” Yet, PBU churches consider this term a misnomer.
      3. Mankind is sinful and needs salvation which is only provided by the atonement of Jesus.
      4. Yet, Jesus’ atonement is universally applied to all mankind, regardless of faith.
      5. Therefore, all mankind will live in heaven.
      6. For more information, see Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia which can be checked out of the Buchanan County Library.
  2. Not all Primitive Baptists are PBU—only the ones mentioned above.
    1. Primitive Baptist churches began in the 1820s, influenced by the teachings of Daniel Parker as a reaction against the missionary movement.
      1. Parker taught that there were “two seeds” one from Adam from which the elect came, and one from the serpent from which the reprobate (those who were predestined by God for Hell) came.
    2. The tenants that would give rise to Primitive Baptists churches were laid out in the Black Rock address of 1832.
  3. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Primitive Baptists rebuked one of the churches and elders for preaching universalism.
    1. “Resolved, that whereas, we have been troubled with the doctrine of universalism that we advise the churches that if they have any elders preaching such heresies, or members arguing it, that they admonish them to quit preaching it or talking it, and if they fail to hear them to withdraw fellowship from such, and especially we admonish Hale Creek church to admonish Elder M.L. Compton to refrain from such doctrine” (Minutes of the Washington District Primitive Baptist Association, 1907).
    2. Hale Creek Church is just a few miles East of Vansant. This false gospel (a type of universalism) started just a couple miles from our church!
    3. In 1924, the Washington District Association of Primitive Baptists split into “Heller” and “No-Heller” sides. The PBU denomination was born. Among the Universalist congregations were: Hale Creek, Jerusalem, Looney’s Creek, New Garden, Pilgrim’s Rest, Prater Creek, Salem, Slate Creek, and Sumac Grove (Dorgan, In the Hands of a Happy God, 60).
  1. Problem
    1. PBU underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. It also removes the urgency of the gospel message.
    3. The preaching of the gospel becomes unnecessary.
    4. PBU preaches a god of its own imagination rather than the holy and just God of the Bible.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A lack of urgency for the gospel message and salvation of souls.
    2. Unbiblical statements about Hell and the extent and appropriation of Christ’s atonement.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Psalm 2:5-9, 12, “Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. ‘I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’… Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!’
      1. Psalm 2 reveals a just and holy God who will significantly punish those who do not worship His Son.
      2. The “temporal Hell” of PBU is not as significant a punishment of which the Bible speaks.
    2. Proverbs 29:11, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.”
      1. Consistent with Biblical teaching elsewhere, those who are not changed from their original evil nature will be punished.
    3. Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left… “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
      1. Jesus taught of an eternal condemnation in which He will judge and condemn those who do not belong to Him.
    4. Revelation 20:14-15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
      1. John reveals a final judgment of all mankind in which those who have not received Christ are thrown into the eternal lake of fire to be tormented alongside Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.
    5. 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
      1. While John may appear to teach a universalism here, as he teaches that Jesus’ death was for the whole world, elsewhere John made clear that such an atonement can only be appropriated by placing faith in Jesus.
      2. John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
    6. Romans 5:1-2, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
      1. Justification is only appropriated through faith.
  4. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Focus on the perfect justice and holiness of God.
    2. Explain from the Scriptures the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
    3. Finally, direct them to the clear teachings of Jesus on an eternal Hell.

Denials of the Trinity

Oneness Pentecostalism

  1. Description
    1. Oneness Pentecostalism (often known as “Jesus Only” is different than many forms of Unitarianism.
      1. Most forms of Unitarianism deny the divinity of Jesus Christ in some way or another.
      2. Oneness Pentecostalism is a form of modalism in which One God, who is one person, presents Himself in different roles.
    2. Some Oneness Pentecostal Statements:
      1. “There is only ONE GOD: the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of all mankind. This One God, the I AM, is manifested (revealed) to mankind as FATHER (Creator), SON (Savior, 1 Jn.5:20), and HOLY GHOST (indwelling Spirit, Rom. 8:11). God is a Spirit (John 4:24), the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, and of all men. Thus making Him their Father (through creation, Malachi 2:10). The LORD is the FIRST and the LAST, and beside Him there is no God (Isa. 44:6)… The Holy Ghost is not the third person in the Godhead! The Holy Ghost is the Spirit, Jesus Christ coming to dwell in the hearts and lives of those who receive him. That is why, when speaking of the Spirit, Jesus said “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:16-26; Rom 8:9; 2 Cor.13:5). So, THERE ARE NOT THREE PERSONS IN GOD, but three manifestations of the ONE GOD. God is the Savior, and his saving name is now revealed to men as JESUS. Therefore JESUS is the name of God. SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement,, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      2. “The beautiful message of Scripture is that our Creator became our Savior. The God against whom we sinned is the One who forgives us. God loved us so much that He came in flesh to save us. He gave of Himself; He did not send someone else. Moreover, our Creator-Savior is also the indwelling Spirit who is ever-present to help us. God told us how to live and then came to live among us. He showed us how to live in the flesh and laid down His human life to purchase our salvation. Now He abides within us and enables us to live according to His will. Jesus Christ is the one God incarnate, and in Him we have everything we need: healing, deliverance, victory, and salvation (Colossians 2:9-10). By recognizing the almighty God in Jesus Christ, we restore correct biblical belief and experience apostolic power” (About Oneness Pentecostalism,, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
    3. According to Tal Davis, of the North American Mission Board, Oneness Pentecostal movements teach that to receive and maintain salvation, a person must:
      1. Place faith in Jesus only: “Oneness teachers would agree that salvation requires putting one’s full faith in the Jesus of Oneness doctrine, that is the Jesus who is the totality of the Godhead, who died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and who rose again from the dead.”
      2. Repentance and Baptism in the “Name of Jesus”
      3. Speaking in Tongues
      4. Adherence to Holiness Standards
      5. From Tal David, Oneness Pentecostalism,, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. A concept of God which is contrary to the God of the Bible is an idol created by man.
      1. As such, idols cannot save.
    2. The god preached by Oneness Pentecostalism has no ability to save because it presents a false Christ—an antichrist.
    3. Therefore, those trusting in this doctrine are still in sin and awaiting condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Baptism “in the name of Jesus”
    2. A focus on Jesus to the neglect of the Father and the Spirit
    3. A belief that the Father and the Spirit are merely manifestations of Jesus.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections:
    1. Genesis 1:1-3, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
    2. John 1:1-3, 18, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being… No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
      1. In the Creation account (and John’s retelling of the Creation account) three distinct Persons are present at the same time.
      2. The Father is the Author of creation, speaking His plan.
      3. The Son is the Agent of creation, the Word who comes from the mouth of the Father to do His will.
      4. The Spirit is the Administrator of creation, hovering over like a mother eagle over her nest, ensuring that everything created thing is obeying the Father’s will and the Son’s work.
    3. Psalm 2 and Psalm 110: presents a conversation between the Father and the Son.
    4. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
      1. Jesus commanded His Apostles, the foundation of the church, to baptism with the Trinitarian formula—a formula that clearly conveys the same nature and distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Orthodox Christianity has clearly agreed on the Trinity since the early years of the church and taught that God exists (not merely manifests Himself) as three co-eternal, co-equal persons who are distinct, yet unified.
    2. The early church gathered in four councils (called the Christological councils) and decisively dealt with Unitarian thinking and other forms of heresies surrounding Jesus Christ and the Trinity. The councils are: Nicaea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451).
    3. The council of Nicaea expressed a Creed to summarize the Bible’s teaching in regard to Christ: “We believe in one God, the Father All Governing, Creator of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being, both in heaven and earth; Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, becoming human. He suffered and the third day he rose, and ascended into the heavens. And he will come to judge both the living and the dead.,.” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    4. When addressing this heresy, walk through passages of Scripture which portray God as three distinct Persons, yet One God.
    5. The OT word for “One” (echād) was often used to express a complex unity in which two or more persons were joined together as one unit. (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4, Genesis 2:24).

Jesus as God’s Son but not God

  1. Description
    1. These heresies are found in the cults of Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
    2. They reject the deity of Jesus Christ and therefore, the Trinity.
  2. Problem
    1. Jesus’ divinity is necessary for salvation
    2. Sin against an eternal God requires an eternal punishment.
    3. Only an eternal being (past and future) could pay the penalty for eternal punishments.
    4. Jesus’ divinity, which includes His eternality, is necessary for our salvation.
    5. This heresy is a modern-day version of the ancient heresy of Arianism
      1. This heresy was the catalyst for the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).
      2. The council decreed, “But, those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a differently hypostasis or ousia (substance) , or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    6. Because those who espouse this heresy have a god who is unable to save, they usually resort to some sort of legalism for salvation.
  1. Typical Indicators
    1. Speaking of Jesus as God’s Son but not God.
    2. An emphasis on works required for salvation.
  2. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. See John 1:1-4
    2. Philippians 2:5-10, “Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    3. Colossians 1:15-20, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
    4. Hebrews 1:1-4, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
    5. In these passages, Jesus is clearly portrayed as being, by nature, God and therefore is eternal, equal, and of the same substance as the Father and the Spirit.
  3. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Most who espouse this doctrine try not to focus on it in conversations.
    2. Keep them on this issue and do not get side tracked on lesser topics.
      1. Their legalistic salvation flows from their misunderstanding of Christ.
    3. Focus on the passages that express the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.
    4. Direct them to consider the logic of their doctrine in relation to God’s Word.
      1. Remember, Jesus is called the Only Begotten of God, not because He was born to the Father but because His nature is the same as the Father’s.
      2. When a being has an offspring, that offspring is always of the same nature as its parents.
      3. In the same way, Jesus is the same nature as the Father.


Exercise: Identify the False Gospel:

  1. Are you sure you would go to heaven if you died today?
    1. “I’ve never really hurt anyone.”
    2. ____________________________________
  2. Have you been saved?
    1. “Yes! I was baptized ten years ago.”
    2. ____________________________________
  3. Have you asked Jesus into your heart?
    1. “I did when I was a kid at Vacation Bible School. I haven’t gone to church in a long time but I’m sure glad I prayed that prayer!”
    2. ____________________________________
  4. If you were to die today, are you sure that you wouldn’t go to Hell?
    1. “I am. Hell is the suffering we experience here.”
    2. ____________________________________
  5. Are you right with God?
    1. “I was baptized in the name of Jesus”
    2. ___________________________________
  6. Do you have a saving relationship with God?
    1. “Yes, I’ve always obeyed the ten commandments”
    2. ____________________________________
  7. Are you certain that you’re saved?
    1. “I do a lot for God. I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
    2. ___________________________________

Paul’s Farwell to the Ephesian Pastors as a Warning to Us

Acts 20:29-32, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.




Additional Notes:


Helpful Links:

Is Church Membership Biblical? Absolutely!

Over the past several decades, western culture, and particularly American culture has become increasingly individualized. This individualization has led to an erosion in the belief of church membership and the practices that such a belief entail. Church membership is often taken flippantly by both local churches and those seeking membership. One person may end up holding membership at several churches without any commitment to those churches. Churches receive members whose confession and behavior are never checked. Where belief in membership wanes, local churches lose their Christianity and become loose gatherings of semi-religious, semi-spiritual individuals with little commitment to one another or to any particular belief or practice. However, before serious church membership can be prescribed as an antidote, one must investigate God’s Word to see if church membership originated in the mind of God or whether it is merely an invention of men. I contend that church membership is a Biblical concept. Below are eight Biblical foundations for church membership. I am indebted to Dr. Tim Juhnke and my fellow doctoral classmates at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for our discussion on church membership during our Pastoral Ministry seminar.

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Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #1: The New Testament Church Records

In Acts 2:40-47, Luke records the number of those who received the message of salvation, were baptized, and added to their fellowship. Then he shares that those who were saved and baptized were deeply committed to God’s people and purposes. In this New Testament passage and a few others which follow in Acts, we find a recorded number and a specific commitment of those who joined in following Christ at a local level. When someone surrenders to Jesus in faith, the church should baptize him into the fellowship of God’s people. We see in this passage that baptism and church membership share a very close connection in which baptism serves as the initiatory rite in joining God’s people in a formal commitment. In salvation, one comes into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In baptism, one comes into a right relationship with the church.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #2: The Biblical Usage of the Term “Join”

In Acts, Luke regularly uses the term kollaomai (“to join” or “to associate with”) to describe commitment that new believers made to the local church upon their salvation. In Acts 5:13, the Jerusalem church expected her members to live morally upright lives in such a way that many were afraid “to associate with” them. In Acts 9:26, after Paul was saved, he tried “to associate” with the disciples. In Acts 17:32-34, when some heard the good news about Jesus, they “joined” Paul and believed. We get a clearer picture of this term when we see how Jesus used it in Matthew 19:5. Jesus was teaching about the nature of the marriage covenant and quotes from Genesis saying, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and ‘be joined’ (kollaomai) to his wife.” Jesus’ use of the term “join” here shows that the word sometimes carries the idea of a formal and public covenant.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #3: The Call to Regular and Frequent Church Attendance

In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer of Hebrews calls Christians to help each other prepare for the return of Christ by assembling together regularly. The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it this way, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” One of the most prominent aspects of a local church covenant is the commitment to regular attendance at church gatherings.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #4: The New Testament Emphasis on the Local Church

Theologian and Bible Scholar John Hammett, who specializes in the doctrine of the church, has counted 109 occurrences of the term “church” (ekklesia) in the New Testament. According to Hammett, only 13 of these uses clearly refer to the universal church—that is all believers of every era and location. The vast majority of the occurrences of the term “church” in the New Testament refer to local bodies of believers. The New Testament’s emphasis is on Christians committing to local bodies of believers who are in regular fellowship (see John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology, 28-29).

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #5: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Several New Testament passages speak of special gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each believer. Among these passages is First Corinthians 14. In this passage, Paul explains that spiritual gifts are given so that the Christian may “seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor 14:12). This means that God has given each Christian spiritual gifts so he can build up, encourage, and help the local church accomplish her purpose. A Christian cannot use his spiritual gifts as God intended unless he is committed to a local church.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #6: The Command to Practice Church Discipline

Jesus and Paul both commanded local churches to warn and eventually remove members who were acting in rebellious, habitual, or divisive unrepentant sins (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10). How can a person be removed from something that does not actually exist? The command for church discipline necessitates a membership from which to remove the member who is living in sin. Otherwise, there can be no clear acts of obedience to the commands for church discipline.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #7: Pastors’ Accountability to the Chief Shepherd

The writer of Hebrews states, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith…Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:7, 17). The description of the role here is that of pastors. They lead, preach God’s Word, set an example, and shepherd the local church. The reason the writer of Hebrews directs the local church to submit to her pastors is because those pastors “will give an account.” When Christ returns, every pastor will answer for how he shepherded those people that the Chief Shepherd entrusted to his care. Without a church membership, how can the pastor know for whom he will be held accountable?

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #8: The Priesthood of All Believers

In Exodus 19:6, God gives a glimpse of His desire and goal. He wanted to make a people for himself that was a holy nation—a nation in which every citizen is a priest. However, the people of Israel were afraid to be priests before God—so they asked Moses to mediate between them and God (Exodus 20:18-21). Moses, his brother Aaron, and their ancestors the Levites, served as a tribe of priests. Yet, God sought to make a nation of priests. Under the new covenant, each person who is saved by Christ becomes part of the royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:4-10). In the New Testament, we see local church bodies serving as the priesthood together. They practiced church discipline (Mt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:2), restored repentant members who were disciplined (2 Cor 2:6-7), baptized new believers into membership (Acts 2:41), ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22).

The Biblical evidence directs us to realize that when we are saved, we are saved to become part of God’s people, God’s family. And this new communal relationship isn’t a mere mystical union. It is a tangible and formal union with a body of believers who meet regularly and consistently for the purposes of God.

So how can we change our beliefs and practices since church membership is clearly Biblical? Maybe you’ve never been saved from your sins. What a wonderful life-giving blessing it would be if you accepted Christ today and become part of His family! Maybe you attend a church but you have never formally committed to that church in membership. Will you seek membership? Maybe you’re a member somewhere but you’ve neglected your responsibility to be a part of church business meetings where the church exercises her role as the royal priesthood. Will you make this incredible calling a priority? Maybe there’s a ministry in your church where God would have you serve and use your spiritual gifts. Will you sign up? Maybe you’re afraid to give a tithe of your income faithfully to God through the local church. Will you step out in faith and watch God provide for you as you are faithful to Him? Maybe you’re physically unable to serve in many ways. Will you take on the powerful ministry of prayer and pray through your church’s directory and calendar? Maybe you realize your church hasn’t kept a careful watch on her membership. Insist that church leaders check the salvation of potential members, encourage your church to practice discipline and restoration where necessary, exhort your church to clean up its membership role, removing those who are attending elsewhere or who are attending nowhere. Church membership is a covenantal commitment. May we honor God by treating it as one instituted by Him.


How to Have Family Devotions

As our region has been hit by winter storm Diego, we have cancelled all services at our church today. We have encouraged our members to have a time of family devotion. Family worship or family devotion was very common in past generations but has fallen out of practice in the last fifty years. However, such devotions are Biblically mandated and exemplified. In one of the most famous and significant passages of the Old Testament, God told the Israelites through Moses:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

The main gist behind this passage is that a love for God works out in focusing on His Word in such a way that leads to teaching future generations. So in the above passage, parents have the command to teach their own children from God’s Word.

Paul reveals an example of this Biblical command playing out in the family life of his young disciple in ministry. Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). 

Timothy learned the Scriptures, not just from the Apostle Paul, but at home, from his mother Eunice and his grandmother, Lois (2 Timothy 1:5).

So we have a Biblical command for family devotion and we have a Biblical example of family devotion. But if a husband and father desires to obey this command, how should he do so? Many Christian brothers did not have an example of family devotion from their own childhood from which to draw.

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Family devotion will usually have four components.

First, the reading of God’s Word: This is the main component of family devotion. Reading God’s Word together has always been a hallmark of Christian worship (Neh 8:1-6 & 1 Tim 4:13). It is a time for God to speak to the family through His Word. God reveals Himself and His plan to mankind through His Word. The Psalmist says, “The Law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps 19:7). As seen above, it makes one wise unto salvation and is good for instruction (2 Tim 3:16-17). It provides wisdom that cannot be gained through experience or age (Ps 119:99-100). God’s Word provides direction for life (Ps 119:105) and gives families a firm foundation in a confused world (Mt 7:24-27). In family devotion, parents are not only giving children and each other what they need to navigate this life well, but are also directing them to trust Christ and be prepared for the time that they will each have to stand in judgement before Him.

Second, a brief discussion on God’s Word: This is the time for the family to focus on what they just read together from God’s Word and to help each other understand it. In Deuteronomy 6, God directs us to discuss God’s Word regularly. In the account of Ezra and Nehemiah, after Ezra read from God’s Word, the Levites explained to the people what Ezra had read (Neh. 8:7-8). A helpful way to lead this discussion is through the inductive method. The husband/father or the spiritual leader of the house if the husband/father is unsaved, will want to ask his family three kinds of questions. First, what did the passage say? This is just restating what was said in one’s own words. This question helps to focus the attention and engage the memory to what was just read. Second, what does this passage mean? For instance, if the family reads Psalm 19:10, the question would be “What does it mean that God’s Word is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey?” This will lead the family to see God’s Word as more valuable than any worldly possession or experience. Third, how does this passage direct our beliefs, attitudes, and actions? With the above example from Psalm 19, the family will likely answer, to prioritize reading God’s Word, going to Bible study/Sunday School, hearing God’s Word preached regularly, letting God’s Word direct their lives.

Third, praying as a familyPrayer is talking to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us a model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. This prayer reveals several aspects to include in a family prayer that we see elsewhere throughout Scripture. First we read, “Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” The family will want to offer praise to God for who He is: our holy Father who is above all. Second, we read, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” Family prayer is a good time to ask for God’s guidance and will in family situations. It’s a time to ask God to make His will clear. Should we move? Should I join this sport? Should we buy this new vehicle? How can I deal with this person who is bullying me at school? Third we read, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The family can ask God to provide for their needs at this time as well. Fourth we read, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Family devotion is a good time to confess sin and ask God to forgive it. This is a crucial part of Christian parenting. Your children need to see you acknowledge your own sins, confess them to the Lord, and repent of them. They need an example of trusting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Have your children ever seen you do this? Finally we read, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” The family can pray to acknowledge and trust God’s control in their every situation.

Fourth, singing hymns and worship songs: Christians have always worshiped together by singing praises to God. Paul directs the Colossian church to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms  and  hymns  and  spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). The guide is that the hymns or songs should be Biblically and theologically true and should be songs that praise God. Hymns sincerely sung please God, focus the mind on truth, bring joy to the heart, and instruct one another. You don’t have to be a good singer to lead your family in singing. You just need to be sincere. If a family member plays an instrument, that can be accompaniment for family worship. Many churches have old hymnals that they are willing to give away. Hymnals can be bought from Christian book stores. Also, a family may look up hymns on a website like

A few final hints to family worship. First, it’s easier if you pick the same time every day. For some families, early in the morning before anyone leaves for work or school works well. For many, at the very end of dinner around the dinner table will be preferable. For most, right before bedtime works well. Second, if you miss a day or a few days, give yourself grace and don’t give up. It’s important enough to keep trying. Third, on days where the family attends a church service together, abbreviate family worship and discuss the sermon or Bible Study lessons. Finally, I suggest picking a book of the Bible to read through chapter by chapter with the family. May God bless us all as we seek to worship Him with our families!

His Perfect Word Revives Our Souls

In my Ministry of Worship class in seminary I was required to write a hymn. I don’t consider myself to be particularly adept in the fine arts so I found this assignment frustrating. I remember that I sat down for a few hours with a blank piece of paper on the desk in front of me and pen in hand. I could think of nothing.

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Then, my favorite psalm which I had recently studied in Theology I came to mind: Psalm 19. This Psalm is about how God reveals Himself to mankind. The first section speaks of the knowledge of God we gain from creation. This is known as general revelation because it is communicated to all mankind through creation. However, general revelation is limited. It doesn’t give us specifics about God’s character or plan; it does not tell us how to be saved. General revelation does show us that there is a Creator who is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnisapient (all-wise).

The second section of Psalm 19 speaks of God’s Word, also known as the Bible, Scriptures, or Special Revelation. Special Revelation tells us what General Revelation lacks: that God has made Himself known in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It shows us God’s love, His plan for salvation, His relational nature, His justice, His holiness, His grace, etc. Indeed, the Psalmist states the “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” The word “restoring” is the Hebrew word מְשִׁיבַת which carries the idea of repentance or changing direction in relation to God which the King James Version helpfully translates “converting.” The form of the verb in Hebrew expresses causation. God’s Word initiates our eternal salvation. Therefore, it is more precious and valuable than any object we can obtain, no matter the quantity.

As I pondered this favorite Psalm, words just began to flow out of my heart onto the page. Once started, the hymn was completed in a matter of minutes. I hope you will enjoy this hymn inspired by Psalm 19.


His Perfect Word Revives Our Souls

Psalm 19
To the tune of: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
In Long Meter
By Eric Grant Fannin
May 10, 2009

Verse 1

All Heavens sing and glorify

Of His great name, O, El Shaddai

The world does sing and testify

Of how He made both earth and sky


His perfect Word revives our souls

The Majesty of Christ foretold

He gives us all new life to hold

Verse 2

The morning sun brings light to day

Revives the earth without delay

Just as the Son of Man came forth

To give us life in second birth


His perfect Word revives our souls

The mysteries of Christ unfold

He gives us all new life to hold

Verse 3

As winter’s chill begins to wane

So does man’s heart forget its shame

When Christ has come within to live

Repent, believe, He will forgive


His perfect Word revives our souls

The mercies of our Christ are shown

He gives us all new life to hold

Verse 4

If we will seek His glorious face

Revealed in His true Word by grace

He will make wise our simple hearts

And shield us from the fiery darts


His perfect Word revives our souls

The graces of our Christ made known

He gives us all new life to hold

How to Be Saved

On the dusty ground in front of an old home in Moldova, I had the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the woman who lived there. She had heard about Jesus but she did not know that her sins could be forgiven and that she could be permanently reconciled to God and guaranteed eternal life. She had been taught that she must work to earn her salvation. Once I had finished sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and promised return and explaining that one must be saved, she responded in a way that I have never seen in the United States. With great anticipation, eagerness, and concern for her eternal state, she inquired, “How can I have that? How can I be saved?” She invited us in and we explained to her the process of receiving salvation. There, on the rug of her living room floor, with no further instruction, she knelt down and cried aloud for God to save her because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Have you been saved? Do you know how to be saved? Do you know how to lead someone else to salvation? A few weeks ago I wrote about the grand narrative that runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that God sent His Son to save a sin-fallen world. This article is where the rubber meets the road. How can someone receive salvation?

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First, one must hear the gospel message. No one can be saved without hearing the gospel message of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return which enables salvation. Paul, speaking about the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation, says, “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15). Apart from a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His ministry, no one can be saved. If we want to see our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers escape the fires of Hell and be reconciled to God for eternity, we must share the good news of Jesus with them.

Second, one must acknowledge his or her sinful and condemned state. This is what I call the bad news of the good news. Unless you acknowledge the bad news about yourself, you will never be able to accept the good news about Jesus. The Bible is clear that we are all sinners; that we all start out life opposed to God. Isaiah says that even our attempts to be good are tainted by sin and seen as unclean in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) while Paul says that we all have missed God’s mark of righteousness (Romans 3:23). Paul, speaking to Christians, says that there was a time when we all were spiritually dead because of our own sins, we all used to walk the direction of the world and of Satan, we all followed our sinful and selfish desires, and we all, at one time, were under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul warns us that the punishment of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and God’s condemnation to “flaming fire” and “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-12). Jesus tells John likewise, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). As Christians who care for those around us, we must gently and lovingly warn those who have not been saved of this imminent eternal danger.

Third, one must realize the great love of God expressed through Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus’ death and resurrection on behalf of sinners for their salvation is the heart of the gospel message. Jesus has always existed as God but He also became a man in order to represent mankind before God (Hebrews 4:14-16). As the God-man, He died on the cross as a substitute, taking the eternal punishment for the sins of others. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, God the Father raised Him from the dead and returned Him to His exalted place in Heaven (Philippians 2:5-11). We know that God the Father expressed His love for us by sending His Son (John 3:16). We know that God the Son considered the result of His dying to save us a joy (Hebrews 12:2). God’s love for mankind is so great that Christ died for us even while we were sinners; while we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-11). The message of God’s love must always be on the lips of Christians. Will you share the message of God’s love with someone this month?

Fourth, one must respond to this news about Jesus with faith and repentance. Paul tells us that eternal salvation can only be received by grace through faith and that it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace is undeserved and unearned favor or gifts. Faith is placing a trust in someone or something in such a way that the way we think and act changes in light of that person or thing. But what is the nature of saving faith? Saving faith exhibits two characteristics. First, saving faith trusts Jesus as the sufficient Savior who did everything required for salvation so that nothing else is needed. A faith that requires more than what Jesus accomplished is not saving faith but a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Second, saving faith trusts Jesus as authoritative Lord of one’s life. Lord means “master” or “king” and speaks of one who has the right to direct others. Paul says, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Saving faith trusts Jesus both as Savior and Lord; as the One who saves your soul and directs your life. Upon placing faith in Jesus, God sends His Holy Spirit into the believer to change the believer’s beliefs, desires, and actions (Ezekiel 36:24-28). At that moment, the Holy Spirit causes repentance in the believer’s heart which expresses itself in prayer asking God for forgiveness. Paul says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). The gospel of Jesus is a message that calls for a response of faith leading to repentance. Let’s encourage those around us not only to hear the good news but to respond to it appropriately.

We have such a great message to share: That God sent His Son to die and rise to save us! That by trusting Jesus, God mercifully forgives us! That by trusting Jesus, God graciously adopts us as His children! That “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)! Have you trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord? Will you share with others so they may be saved also?

Is Evangelism Your Pastor’s Job? No…and Yes

The article below is another one I wrote for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I have done previously with this kind of article, I have included parenthetical explanations where I thought it may help a more general audience. My hope in sharing this article is to relieve my brother pastors from the weight of expectation in a task that is not theirs to bear alone. Second, I hope this article will mobilize the church to share the gospel and to see evangelism as one of her primary responsibilities in every member.

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The calling and work of pastors are essential for the health of the local church. However, that health diminishes when the pastoral office assumes roles intended for others. This paper will provide a brief overview of the recent history of pastoral theology and its related disciplines, provide a Biblical description of the pastoral office, and explain how evangelism intersects with the pastoral office in order to show that personal evangelism is a secondary responsibility in pastoral care but a primary responsibility for the church in all her members.

Brief Overview of the Recent History of Pastoral Theology

Pastoral ministry in the twenty-first century presents overwhelming demands on those called of God to shepherd His people. David Larsen cites studies showing the pastor-teacher performing 192 different tasks.[1] The result of such an overwhelming load is pastoral burnout, short-tenured pastorates, neglect of pastors towards their families, feelings of isolation between pastors and their flocks, and moral failures of those in pastoral ministry.[2]

Pastoral ministry was not always this deluded. A shift occurred in the foundation of pastoral theology which guides pastoral ministry. Throughout most of church history, pastoral theologians built their understanding of the pastoral office upon Scripture.[3] However, the Enlightenment encouraged an epistemological shift (epistemology is the study of knowledge and its foundations), even in pastoral theology. Eventually, empirical data took the place of special revelation in prominence among many pastoral theologians.[4] Pastoral theology was moved to a new foundation: modern psychology[5] in which goals of social functioning and self-realization replaced the goals of salvation and sanctification.[6] During the twentieth century, those more conservative authors left the foundations of ministry unaddressed and instead focused on practical advice drawn from personal experience.[7]

Near the end of the twentieth century, Thomas Oden wrote his Pastoral Theology directing the discipline back to foundations in Scripture and the Patristics.[8] However, Oden’s goal was to produce a pastoral theology that was both biblical and as ecumenical as possible.[9] His work, therefore, lacked strong differentiation between the offices in the New Testament and lumped them all together as “pastoral offices.”[10] Oden’s work has wielded strong influence and marked a shift in pastoral theology resulting in a corresponding shift in pastoral practice. Many pastoral theologians have been turning to the Scriptures for the foundation of their discipline[11] but have also lacked proper differentiation.

Despite this shift back to the Bible as foundation of pastoral theology, an understanding of the Biblical office of pastor remains somewhat vague and ill-defined in pastoral theologies and pastoral handbooks. When pastoral theologians and pastoral ministry practitioners’ give direction to pastors from the Bible, most assume that all ministry (or nearly all ministry with the exception of diaconal ministry among some traditions) belongs to the office of pastor. Very little differentiation is made between apostolic ministry, prophetic ministry, evangelistic ministry, pastoral ministry, and ministries of the body at large.

The Apostle Paul and his companions Timothy and Titus are very often viewed as the ideal examples of pastoral ministry even though there is little implied evidence and no explicit evidence that they served in the pastoral office in any local church.[12] Contrary to the overwhelming assumption, Merkle provides three reasons to make a distinction between the role of Timothy and Titus and that of pastors: Timothy and Titus’ positions were temporary in such a way to travel with Paul, authoritative in such a way to appoint elders, and unique in such a way that no other New Testament example can be found.[13] Indeed, if Timothy and Titus were pastors, this would be the only two examples of a monarchical episcopate (single-pastor model) until the writings of Ignatius in the mid-second century. While the return to a Biblical foundation in pastoral theology is superlative, a maturing and defining process in this discipline and its cognates is still wanting; a process which is necessary for pastoral ministry to be as focused and powerful as King Jesus designed it to be.

A Biblical Description of the Pastoral Office

          The pastoral office must find its nature and imperatives in Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Scripture is sufficient, not only for directing one to salvation, but also for developing a right ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and therefore a right pastoral theology.[14] Scripture’s direction for the pastoral office may be understood in two axioms. First and more explicit, Scripture guides the pastoral office through descriptions, qualifications, and commands directly connected to the three interchangeable terms of the pastoral office when used thereof: πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter), ἐπισκόποις (bishop or overseer), and ποιμένας (pastor or shepherd).[15] Second, and more implicit, pastors must find the nature and content of their assignment in the example of Jesus Christ as He acts in the shepherding motif. Peter, while commanding elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” then referred to Jesus as “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4). This directive to the elders connected with this designation of Jesus implies that elders must imitate Jesus’ shepherding activity. This axiom may be termed pastoral theology in a narrow usage.

These two axioms concerning Scripture and the pastoral office lead to an understanding of five pastoral responsibilities. The first pastoral responsibility is the ministry of the Word. As the church spread and the apostles died, some, but not all, aspects of the apostolic ministry transferred to pastors.[16] In Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles led the church to ordain deacons so they could be free to proclaim God’s Word publicly (Acts 6:4). Paul’s division of officers in Philippians 1:1 suggests that overseers assumed part of the ministry of the Word and deacons served alongside these local overseers in a similar way that they served alongside the apostles. Consistently, overseers must be gifted to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and defend against heresy (Tit 1:9).

The second pastoral responsibility is the ministry of prayer. The overseers also received this important ministry from the Apostles (Acts 6:4). James reveals that pastors devote special efforts and time to praying with people as representatives of the whole church (Ja 5:14).

The ministry of leadership is the third pastoral responsibility. The term ἐπισκόποις (overseer or bishop) carried the idea of leadership from the surrounding Greek culture.[17]  This leadership comes from the authority of the Holy Spirit’s appointment of them to their work (Acts 20:28).

The fourth pastoral responsibility is the ministry of shepherding. The shepherding motif is well established in the Old Testament. God the Father was seen as a shepherd (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34). Jesus, joined in His Father’s work by shepherding the flock (John 10). Then, Jesus commissioned Peter using shepherding language (Jn 21:15-17). As the apostles spread out, they commissioned leaders of congregations to shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt 1:1-5). This responsibility involves spiritual protection, provision, and care in applying God’s Word to the lives of members with the goal of sanctification and equipping (Eph 4:11-12).

The ministry of modeling the Christ-like life is the fifth responsibility of the pastor.  The term πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter) when used of the New Testament office did not carry the idea of age but maturity.[18] Paul’s direction to Timothy and Titus about the qualifications for overseers in First Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 reveal this modeling ministry as all of the qualifications for elders are commanded for every Christian in other passages of the New Testament with the exception for the ability to teach. Peter likewise commands elders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3).

Intersections of Evangelism and the Pastoral Office

In seeking a more precise understanding of New Testament ministries, one will notice that Paul makes a four-fold differentiation in Word-based ministry roles in Ephesians 4:11 between apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.[19] Each of these roles were given, not to do the work of ministry, but to equip others to do such work.[20] God’s goal is to make a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” for Himself (Ex 19:6) rather than to have a class of priests within His people.

Peter calls every Christian together[21] a “spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). Then, Peter shares the nature and content of these sacrifices, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pt 2:9).  Thomas Schreiner explains the development that Peter makes in this passage:

Now God’s kingdom of priests consists of the church of Jesus Christ. It too is to mediate God’s blessings to the nations, as it proclaims the gospel…The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.[22]

All Christians are called to do the work of ministry. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) which Christ gave to His apostles, the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20), passed to all Christians, not to a special class of Christians. Ken Schurb convincingly shows that non-pastors spread the gospel in Antioch after fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem in Acts 11. Schurb writes,

the church was indeed planted among the Gentiles at Antioch through laymen who told the Good News about the Lord Jesus…The work of the men of Cyprus and Cyrene in Acts 11 simply provides an instance in which members of the royal priesthood of believers, faced with a situation where the Gospel was not known, proclaimed the excellencies of the One Who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.[23]

The example of the New Testament church reveals that sharing the gospel was the primary task of the entire church in every member.

Therefore, understanding that all Christians have a share in evangelism to some extent,[24] and since Paul distinguishes between the role of an evangelist and the role of a pastor, pastoral theologians must seek to understand this difference so pastors may function as God intended. The term εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) is only used three times in the New Testament: here in Ephesians 4:11 making this distinction in roles, once of Philip (Acts 21:8), and once of Timothy (2 Tim 4:5).

Thielman, considering the term and usage of εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) and its cognates in historical context, concludes,

“Evangelists,” then, are probably those whom God has especially equipped to travel from place to place with the good news of peace through Christ…Paul, then, probably thinks of “evangelists” as similar to apostles but without their authority because of their lack of direct connection to the historical Jesus.[25]

Merkle agrees with Thielman’s assessment and notes that Philip and Timothy, of whom the title is used, both traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.[26] Everett Ferguson explains that before the offices of Apostles and prophets ceased, the Apostles began setting aside “elders to oversee congregations… Likewise, Paul early began to gather around himself men like Timothy and Titus who were trained to continue the work of preaching the gospel…‘evangelist’ was a technical term for this class of workers…laboring to win new converts.”[27] Since the officers of Ephesians 4:11 are not to do the work of ministry alone but to equip others to do so, evangelists travel to share the gospel and encourage the church to do so as well.

If one realizes the differentiation between ministries in the New Testament and is careful not to impute Paul, Timothy, or Titus with the pastoral office, then the direct command “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5) cannot be assumed in pastoral responsibility. Indeed, the pastoral motif directs shepherds to minister to those who belong to God’s flock, not those who are outside the flock, at least predominantly. The inquiry at hand then, concerns the relationship of the pastoral office and evangelism. This article does not argue that pastors should not evangelize, but rather that evangelism is a secondary function of the pastorate as it intersects with the five Biblical responsibilities of a shepherd expounded previously.

First, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office ecclesiologically (concerning the doctrine and function of the church). As pastors have the responsibility of leading local congregations and as the mission of the church is to “make disciples” (Mt 28:16-20) and be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8), pastors must lead their congregations in evangelistic efforts. This intersection is well-acknowledged among pastoral theologians and practitioners today.[28] Samuel Southard hints at this intersection when he states, “The first responsibility of pastors is not to evangelize but to produce an evangelizing congregation.”[29]

Owen Stultz also recognizes this intersection and provides ten roles for pastors to lead their churches in evangelism, one of which calls for particular mention: “The role of the pastor is to help persons develop as evangelists.”[30] As ecclesiological leaders, pastors not only lead the church as a whole in evangelism but also help those called to be evangelists (a contemporary manifestation likely being church planters and international missionaries) to develop their gifts.

Second, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office incarnationally (“in the flesh”). As pastors have the responsibility to set the example of the Christ-like life for their congregations, they will be an in-the-flesh inspiration to obedience in evangelism. As the Great Commission is the primary responsibility of the priesthood of all believers, every Christian is called to evangelism. The pastor shares the gospel first as a Christ-follower and second as a pastor. His life illustrates to others what it means to follow Jesus. Therefore, He shares the gospel personally, showing others how to follow Jesus in this way. This intersection is also well-acknowledged in pastoral theology and ministry today.[31] Southard remarks, “The personal witness of a pastor provides inspiration and example for others.”[32]

Third, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office metaphorically. As a pastor has the responsibility to shepherd the flock as Christ shepherds, he will be sensitive to those who may become part of the flock.  J Patrick Vaughn recognized this intersection of shepherding and evangelism. He explains, “Pastoral theological reflection upon the ministry of evangelism begins with the very nature of God as captured and expressed in metaphor.”[33]

The shepherding metaphor directs pastors to focus their primary efforts upon the flock. Jesus spent the majority of His ministry instructing and guiding those who believed in Him: His disciples. However, when Jesus, the Chief Shepherd saw sheep without a shepherd, He was moved with compassion for them (Matt 9:36). He focused on serving those who were already His own and “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet He was ready and willing to shepherd all others who would trust Him (Matt 15:21-28). Biblical pastors will focus their efforts toward the sheep, but they will be ready and willing to shepherd those who will trust in the Chief Shepherd.

Fourth, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office theologically. As the pastor has the responsibility to shepherd God’s flock and considers the doctrine of election, he will seek sheep who are not yet spiritually regenerated. Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Prime and Begg allude to this passage and this intersection when they state, “Our responsibility is not solely for the flock already gathered in, but for those other sheep that are to be called…A true pastor’s concern is for the other sheep that have not yet heard the Great Shepherd’s call.”[34] However, this flows from the responsibility of shepherding and shepherding the flock gathered takes precedence lest the pastor neglect the revealed flock for the hypothetical sheep.

Fifth, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office didactically (regarding the responsibility to teach). As pastors are responsible for the ministry of the Word among their flocks and the content of the Word centers in the prophecies, fulfillments, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ as the gospel (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:44), then pastoral evangelism may be construed as preaching the gospel and its implications to the church. Abbott-Smith defines εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) as “a preacher of the gospel.”[35] In this non-technical sense, pastors serve as evangelists every time they preach or teach from God’s Word as the gospel is central to understanding and applying the Scripture to one’s life.

Kurt Richardson also shows the pastoral responsibility of the praying for the sick and anointing with oil from James five. He relates anointing with oil to repentance.[36] In this sense, when pastors pray for the sick, they should encourage repentance and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of any sin. While this ministry is intended toward the church, it reveals that in every act, pastors teach the gospel and its implications.


          This article has sought to show how pastors may be rightly construed as evangelists in their pastoral care. A brief history of pastoral theology and ministry was given to show the current state of scholarship in pastoral evangelism. Then, a Biblical overview of primary pastoral responsibilities was given. Finally, an explanation of the intersections of pastoral responsibility and evangelism were explored.

A Biblical understanding of the pastor as evangelist reveals that evangelism is not a primary responsibility of the pastor but of the church; of the priesthood of all believers. Evangelism intersects with pastoral ministry in a secondary-logical way. The result of this shift from evangelism as a primary responsibility of the pastor to a secondary one will relieve pastors from a burden that is not theirs to shoulder alone. It will also encourage the church in all her members to take her rightful place in evangelistic effort. In short, this shift will lead to evangelism practiced as a corporate effort instead of a spectacular one.


Abbott-Smith, G. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922.

Akin, Daniel L. and R. Scott Pace. Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017.

Allison, Gregg. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

Armstrong, John H., ed. Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern   Times. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001.

Armstrong, Richard Stoll. “Evangelism: Communicating the Good News of the Christian Gospel.” In The New Dictionary of Pastoral Studies. Edited by Wesley Carr, Donald Capps, Robin Gill, et al. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

Beckwith, Roger. Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of Ordained Ministry. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003.

Bisagno, John. Pastor’s Handbook. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Boisen, Anton T. Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1946.

Boisen, Anton T. “The Problem of Sin and Salvation in the Light of Psychopathology,” in The Journal of Religion 22, no. 2 (July 1942), 288-301.

Bryant, James W. and Mac Brunsen. The New Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007.

Cedar, Paul, Kent Hughes, and Ben Patterson. Mastering the Pastoral Role. Portland: Multnomah, 1991.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980.

Collins, John N. “The Presbyter as Purveyor of the Word of God.” In Worship 83, no. 3: (May 2014), 255-271.

Dobbins, G.S. “Pastoral Evangelism.” In Review & Expositor 42, no. 1: (January 1945), 48-58.

Ferguson, Everett. “The Ministry of the Word in the First Two Centuries” In Restoration Quarterly 1, no. 1: (1957), 21-31.

Hawkins, O.S. The Pastor’s Primer. Nashville: GuideStone, 2006.

Hiltner, Seward.  Preface to Pastoral Theology.  New York: Abingdon Press, 1958.

Holifield, Brooks E. A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. Nashville: Abington Press, 1983.

Larsen, David L.  Pastoral Ministry in the Local Congregation: Caring for the Flock.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

Lea, Thomas D. and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. 1,2 Timothy Titus. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1992.

Lightfoot, J.B. Philippians. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994.

Merkle, Benjamin. 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2008.

Merkle, Benjamin. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016.

Merkle, Benjamin. Why Elders?: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2009.

Merkle, Benjamin and Thomas Schreiner eds. Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce Manning. “New Testament View of the Church.” In Theology Today 19, no. 3 (October 1962): 369-380.

Montoya, Alex D. “Outreaching.” In Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Oats, Wayne E. The Bible and Pastoral Care. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953.

Oden, Thomas C.  Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry.  New York: Harpersanfransisco, 1983.

Prime, Derek and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor:  Understanding Our Calling and Work. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004.

Purves, Andrew.  Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation.  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Richardson, Kurt, A. James. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Schurb, Ken. “Pastors and People in Evangelism: A Study in Acts.” In Missio Apostolica 8, no. 1: (May 2000), 32-39.

Silva, Moises. Philippians: Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Southard, Samuel. Pastoral Evangelism. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962.

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students: The 28 Lectures, Complete and Unabridged- A Spiritual Classic of Christian Wisdom, Prayer and Preaching in the Ministry. Pantianos Classics, 1875.

Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1979.

Stultz, Owen D. “The Role of the Pastor in Evangelism and Church Growth.” In Brethren Life and Thought 25, no. 2: (Spring 1980), 111-120.

Tidball, Derek. Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Thompson, James W. Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Vaughn, Patrick J. “Evangelism: A Pastoral Theological Perspective” in The Journal of Pastoral Care 49, no. 3: (Fall 1995), 265-272.

Ward, Ronald A. Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974.

Wilson, James M. Six Lectures on Pastoral Theology, With an Appendix on the Influence of Scientific Training on the Reception of Religious Truth. London: MacMillian and Co., Limited, 1903).  

Wilson, Jim. “The Pastor and Evangelism: Preaching the Gospel.” In Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Thom S. Rainer. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989.


[1] David Larsen, Pastoral Ministry in the Local Congregation: Caring for the Flock (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 15.

[2] See Derek Tidball, Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 239.

[3] As evidenced by Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), see especially p. 116.

[4] For a common example of this see James M. Wilson, Six Lectures on Pastoral Theology, With an Appendix on the Influence of Scientific Training on the Reception of Religious Truth (London: MacMillian and Co., Limited, 1903) where on p. 9, Wilson claims, “Theological beliefs…are not inferences from an infallible book; they arise ultimately out of the nature of things; they are rooted in human nature; they are verified by ever renewed and ever-enriched human experience; they arise out of the one eternal thing, the eternal mystery—life in God and man.”

[5] Three prominent pastoral theologians which based their works on modern psychology and greatly influenced not only pastoral theology but pastoral ministry in the twentieth-century were Anton Boisen, Seward Hiltner, and Wayne Oats.

[6] See Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), xix-xx and Holifield, Brooks E. A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization, (Nashville: Abington Press, 1983).

[7] This emphasis can be seen as early as Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students: The 28 Lectures, Complete and Unabridged- A Spiritual Classic of Christian Wisdom, Prayer and Preaching in the Ministry (Pantianos Classics: 1875) and as late as W.A. Criswell’s Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980).

[8] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983).

[9] Ibid., 61.

[10] Ibid, 49-51, 67.

[11] For instance, see Andrew Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004); John Armstrong’s Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001); Daniel Akin and Scott Pace’s Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017); and James Thompson’s Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

[12] This is true even among authors who admit that Timothy and Titus were really “envoys” of Paul rather than Pastors. For example, Derek Tidball presents the argument that Timothy and Titus were not bishops because the title was never used of them, the title was used of other local leaders and the designation for Paul’s companions would have confused the recipients. Timothy and Titus’ duties were temporary and their authority was “open-ended” yet, Tidball continues to use them as the model for pastoral ministry in Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 150.

[13] Benjamin Merkle. 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 101-105.

[14] See Psalm 19:7-14, 2 Peter 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, as well as Gregg Allison’s excellent discussion on the sufficiency of Scripture for ecclesiology in Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 33-39.

[15] See Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-5; and cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9 for the interchangeability of these three terms for the same office.

[16]  Benjamin Merkle makes this speculation after noting that Luke speaks of the Apostles and Jerusalem elders working together in Acts 11:30 but as Acts progresses, the Apostles are mentioned less and the elders more in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 61

[17] See Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 153 where they write, “The title ‘overseer’ indicates the function of oversight or supervision of the church. It implies a spiritual responsibility to ‘manage’ God’s church (cf. 1 Tim 3:4–5)…It is an office charged with ensuring the welfare of God’s people through the loving watch-care of their servant leaders.”

[18] Roger Beckwith, Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of Ordained Ministry (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003), 30.

[19] Paul changed his grammatical pattern when he speaks of the “teacher” in a way that connected it closely to the office of pastor. Specifically, he excluded his τοὺς μὲν/ δὲ pattern which was used of the other offices mentioned and used καὶ instead. Pastors and teachers here should be seen as one office as they are governed by the same article and connected grammatically with καὶ. See Benjamin Merkle’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians (Nashville: B&H Academmic, 2016), 128. Furthermore, the role of teaching cannot be removed from the office of pastor.

[20] Frank Thielman offers a grammatical and literary defense of this understanding of this passage in Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 277-278.

[21] See First Peter 1:1-5, where Peter, in his Trinitarian formula describing salvation, clearly addresses any who have been spiritually regenerated.

[22] Thomas R. Schreiner. 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 115-116.

[23] Ken Schurb, “Pastors and People in Evangelism: A Study in Acts.” Missio Apostolica 8, no. 1 (May 2000), 37.

[24] Richard Stoll Armstrong grounds evangelism in the Great Commission passages and explains, “Jesus lays upon his disciples the responsibility for making further disciples and communicating the good news to the world. Viewed as a stewardship obligation, therefore, evangelism is an obligation of the Church and every church member can do something to help the Church fulfill its evangelistic mission.” One will notice that his article does not refer to the office of the pastor in evangelism throughout in “Evangelism: Communicating the Good News of the Christian Gospel” in The New Dictionary of Pastoral Studies. Eds. Wesley Carr, Donald Capps, Robin Gill, et al (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 120-121.

[25] Frank Thielman. Ephesians. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 274-275.

[26] Benjamin Merkle. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians (Nashville: B&H Academmic, 2016), 128.

[27] Everett Ferguson. “The Ministry of the Word in the First Two Centuries” in Restoration Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1957), 22-23.

[28] See Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 61; Alex D. Montoya. “Outreaching” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 255-257; and G.S. Dobbins “Pastoral Evangelism” in Review & Expositor 42, no. 1 (January 1945), 51-56.

[29] Samuel Southard. Pastoral Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962), 171.

[30] Owen D. Stultz. “The Role of the Pastor in Evangelism and Church Growth” in Brethren Life and Thought 25, no. 2 (Spring 1980), 117.

[31] See Jim Wilson’s “The Pastor and Evangelism: Preaching the Gospel” in Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century. Thom S. Rainer Ed. (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989), 197 and Alex D. Montoya. “Outreaching” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 255-256.

[32] Samuel Southard. Pastoral Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962), 171.

[33] J. Patrick Vaughn. “Evangelism: A Pastoral Theological Perspective” in The Journal of Pastoral Care 49, no. 3 (Fall 1995), 266.

[34] Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor:  Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 60-61.

[35] G. Abbott-Smith. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922), 184-185.

[36] Kurt A. Richardson. James (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1997), 232-236.

The Pastor’s Care of Transgender People

Below is a paper I wrote for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have included some parenthetical explanations when I thought it may be helpful to a more general audience. The issue of transgenderism is an increasing concern in contemporary culture. The church, and pastors particularly, must not ignore this concern but must bring the light of God’s Word to bear so we can help others understand the nature of transgenderism and help transgender people come to Christ and live for Christ. My hope is that this paper will encourage my brother pastors in dealing with these concerns. I want to encourage the interested reader to browse the end notes of this paper as some helpful information is included regarding spiritual warfare, the nature of the pastoral office, and the risks of sex reassignment surgery which could not fit into the body of the essay.

confusion over fuel types


          An increasing awareness and social acceptance of transgenderism poses many questions for the church and pastoral care. Pastors will come to interact with transgender people with increasing frequency. They must be prepared to care for such individuals as God provides the opportunity. The nature of transgenderism, of pastoral care, and the right practice of pastoral care must be carefully considered. In order to provide spiritual care for transgender people, pastors must direct them to find a new identity in Christ in accordance with the Scriptures that will allow them to celebrate their biological gender as a gracious gift from God.

This essay will support the above thesis by showing the authority from which the pastor must understand transgenderism and from which he must derive his care. Further, it will provide an understanding of the salvific goal of pastoral care. Finally, this paper will explore Biblical passages which may be used to guide a transgender person in living out his identity in Christ.

The Pastor and Biblical Epistemology

(Epistemology is the study of the foundations of knowledge)

          In the present bellicose atmosphere, a pastor who will provide care for transgender people must have confidence in the Bible as the source of truth. One’s epistemological foundation will affect his understanding of human nature, transgenderism, ethical direction, the nature of human flourishing, and the goal and manner of his work. Epistemologies opposed to the Bible will vie for dominance in the pastor’s work and the minds of the transgender people he hopes to help. Ethicist Daniel Heimbach warns, “Sexual norms upheld by the Church for centuries…are now treated as uncertain, contentious, or even unworthy, by a growing number of Christian scholars, denominational leaders and pastors.[1]

A dominant authority for transgender care in the fields of psychology and medicine lies in the subjective feelings of the patient. In the preface of Harry Benjamin’s seminal work on the issue, he celebrates “the brave and true scientists, surgeons, and doctors who let the patient’s interest and their own conscience be their sole guides.”[2] He later encourages doctors to perform sex reassignment surgeries for those who have “a deep and honest conviction gained after long and mature consideration.”[3] A contemporary article to address the care of transgender adolescents published through the cooperation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Psychological Association stated:

Approaches should be client-centered and developmentally-appropriate with the goal of treatment being the best possible level of psychological functioning, rather than any specific gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Appropriate therapeutic approaches with sexual and gender minority youth should…focus on identity development and exploration that allows the child or adolescent the freedom of self-discovery within a context of acceptance and support.[4]

This self-derived authority has increased in influence and continues to persist among authorities in the field of psychology.

The subjective nature of this direction collides with the empirical worldview of many researchers and physicians who desire to support transgender lifestyles. Therefore, some have set out to find objective biological causes of transgenderism. One example is the work of Dick Swaab and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras who argue that natal “sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place much earlier in development…than sexual differentiation of the brain…In rare cases, this may result in transsexuality”[5] due to atypical hormone levels in these developmental stages.  Ethicist Alan Branch reveals that current studies attempting to claim a neurological basis for LGBT identities are often misleading because they have found no necessary and sufficient patterns of brain structure to support their claims, they over-exaggerate the differences of the male and female brain, and have confused causation with correlation in regard to brain plasticity.[6]

The nature of the pastoral task, however, requires the foundation of God’s Word to provide true and lasting care for transgender people. One reason for a Biblical epistemology in pastoral care of transgender people is that the Bible is the necessary cause of the pastoral office. When a pastor ceases to derive the nature of his work from the Scriptures, he ceases to be a pastor and to provide pastoral care.

The New Testament uses three terms interchangeably of the pastoral office, ἐπισκόποις (bishop or overseer), ποιμένας (pastor or shepherd), and πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter), which convey the provision of authoritative direction and instruction.[7] Jesus commissioned twelve of his disciples to be Apostles sent out with His authority to teach His Word (Mt 10:1-15, Acts 6:4). As the church spread, the Apostles appointed pastors (also called elders) in every church (Acts 14:23) who would also teach God’s Word as they received it from the Apostles (Eph 4:11). The content of pastoral instruction is “the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:13) which contradicts falsehood (Eph 4:14) and encourages “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The Apostle Peter informs the churches of Northern Asia Minor that this “knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pt 1:2) comes from the Apostles as “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt 1:16) and is the Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture from God (2 Pt 1:19-21).

Pastors must gain an understanding of their work from God’s Word and must direct transgender people (and all those for whom they wish to help) by God’s Word. John Calvin stated:

[E]very dignity of authority ascribed by Scripture to the prophets and priests of the old law, and also to the apostles and their successors, is not ascribed to them personally but to the ministry and functions to which they have been appointed—or to put it more clearly, to the word of God, to the stewardship of which they have been called. For if we consider them one by one, we will find that prophets and priests as well as apostles and disciples were never given power to command or to teach except in the Lord’s name and through his word.[8]

Pastoral work requires directive care through the application of Scripture.

Another reason for a Biblical epistemology in the pastoral care of transgender people is the nature of truth which relies on an immutable, communicative source; namely, God. Gregory Thornbury writes, “The notion of truth is an inherently religious idea. Only an eternal, transcendent sovereign could create everything in such a way as to make the universe knowable, personal, and understandable.”[9] Truth comes from God and the primary source is His Word.

Secular therapies for transgender people encourage the suppression of truth and the deception of others. Benjamin provides four motives for transgender people desiring a sex reassignment or “conversion” operation. Each motive (sexual, gender, legal, and social) comes from a desire to believe and act in a way that denies truth and hides it from others.[10] Indeed, Benjamin even revels in a male to female post-operative transsexual deceiving and marrying a man without ever telling him that he was not born a woman.[11]

Contrary to secular transgender therapies, pastors must guide transgender people to a certainty that is fully objective and powerful enough to contradict their thoughts and emotions about themselves which do not correspond to truth. While addressing the idea of church-officiated transgender weddings, Oliver O’Donovan warns that the church must guard against an accommodation theory, made for difficult pastoral situations, subverting Scripture and truth because “[t]he church’s practice, even if it was devised as an accommodation for the weak, soon becomes the source of its teaching.”[12] Biblical authority, not pragmatism, must drive pastoral care.

Psalm 19:7-9 shows that the Bible, in its every aspect,[13] is the authoritative, perfect, and sure self-revelation of God which is necessary and sufficient for doctrine, counsel, and practice in the life of churches and individuals.[14] The Pastor’s direction for transgender people is stable and certain because it comes from an eternal and unchanging God who revealed Himself in Scripture.

Salvation for Transgender People

In order to provide help for transgender people, pastors must first understand the situation of transgenderism. Transgender refers to “the broad spectrum of individuals who transiently or persistently identify with the gender different from their natural gender.”[15] Transgenderism is not an issue which only affects the contemporary world. One can find examples of transgenderism in some cultures throughout history because it is a condition, like many other conditions, of the sin-fallen human heart. The Ancient Mesopotamian deity Inanna-Ishtar is described as both a woman and a man. She was said to have the ability to curse her enemies to change them from male to female. Consistently, her priests sought to represent her by dressing like a woman on their right side and a man on their left.[16] In Egypt, the female Pharaoh Hatsheput represented herself as both male and female and has been pictured with male genitalia. She would often wear male clothing and the royal beard of the Pharaohs and is referred to as both a son and a daughter.[17]

Ancient Israel was not silent concerning transgender-related issues either. Transvestitc activity was strongly prohibited as תֹועֲבַת יְהוָה “an abomination to the LORD” (Dt 22:5). Acts denounced in this way “were sure to bring God’s wrath on those who perpetrated them.”[18] This prohibition likely reveals that the nations which would surround Israel in the Promised Land celebrated such practices. Duane Christensen points out that this law fits into the broader literary context dealing with other sexual sins, specifically, adultery[19] while Craigie explains men’s clothing includes “not only clothing, but ornaments, weapons, etc., normally associated with men.”[20] This law not only denounced cross-dressing but also intentionally behaving and taking on the role of the opposite sex.

Transsexual “denotes an individual who seeks, or has undergone, a social transition from male to female or female to male, which in many, but not all, cases also involves a somatic transition by cross-sex hormone treatment and genital surgery (sex reassignment surgery).”[21] Transsexualism may seem to many a merely contemporary issue, yet, like transgenderism, similar practices are found in antiquity. Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits anyone who has been emasculated[22] from entering the assembly of the LORD. Craigie argues that this prohibition is not of those who are accidentally emasculated but those who have intentionally emasculated themselves in worship of a foreign god[23] whereas Merrill contends that it includes both accidental and intentional emasculation.[24] Merrill is likely correct given the emphasis on ritual purity and wholeness in the worship of Ancient Israel. Regardless, those who emasculated themselves were excluded.

Likewise, descendants of Aaron who were to act as priests were prohibited from doing so if they had crushed testicles (Lev 21:20). This passage does not discriminate between accidental, forced, or willful harm to the sexual organs. The early church, at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), also prohibited anyone from serving in the ministry who had intentionally emasculated themselves.[25] Ancient Rome endorsed something similar to transsexualism. On the cultic festival of the goddess Cybele, any man who wished to become her priest would beat and castrate himself. Then, he would dress like a woman from that day forward. A grave of one of Cybele’s priests was found as far as Britain.[26] Issues resembling transsexualism are not new, nor have they gone unaddressed by the Bible or the church.

Gender dysphoria speaks of “the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender.”[27] The secular view contends the cause of this distress to be the negative reaction of others,[28] specifically, the “stresses of prejudice, discrimination, rejections, harassment, and violence…[from] multiple social systems, including family, school, and religious networks”[29] which cause an increased risk for “suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicides”[30] as well as “negative self-concept, increased rates of mental disorder comorbidity, school dropout, and economic marginalization, including unemployment with attendant social and mental health risks.”[31] To its proponents, transgenderism does not cause suffering.

Pastors must realize that there is real suffering in the individual with gender dysphoria and some of it may be due to victimization. However, there is certain suffering in transgenderism and transsexuality that comes from spiritual causes[32] related to the beliefs and behaviors of transgenderism. Pastors must address transgender people with compassion and direction; as sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36); as those who are willing to bring them healing through the gospel of Jesus and the direction of the Word of God.

The mental distress and physical harm[33] that come upon those who practice transgenderism do not primarily come from outside of them, but from their own souls.[34] The Bible reveals the initial cause of suffering in the world was disobedience to God (Gen 2:17) which caused a spiritually deadness in all of mankind (Rom 5:19). This deadness results in a state of life contrary to God’s will and under God’s wrath (Eph 2:1-3). Paul states that because of this rejection, God “gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom 1:24).

Transgender people reject the truth of God (as does every person manifest in some way), which is the gender God provided them at birth. It is the lie coming from the lusts of their hearts. This ἐπιθυμίαις (lust) is a desire of something forbidden.[35] A transgender person’s strong feeling of being assigned the wrong sex at birth and his desire to dress, act, and exist as a member of the opposite sex[36] is consistent with the Bible’s teaching regarding the state of the human heart. Sin separates man from God (Is 59:2) and results in insensitivity to and opposition of God’s will. Therefore, Jeremiah states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick” (Jer 17:9).

The secular gospel for transgender people is to pursue the lust of their heart. Benjamin primes his argument by setting up a cognitive dissonance for his readers and promising a solution. Explaining one may have a psychological sex opposed to his biological sex, he writes, “Great problems arise for those unfortunate persons in whom this occurs. Their lives are often tragic and the bulk of all the following pages will be filled with the nature of their misfortunes, their symptoms, their fate, and possible salvation.”[37] Later, he explains to his readers that sex reassignment surgeries are the source of hope for transsexuals.[38] While the secular world encourages transgender people to go deeper into the lie of their hearts’ desires, pastors must lovingly guide them to see their desire as deceitful and requiring correction and healing. The pursuit of their desires is the cause of their distress.

Paul says that these desires dishonor the bodies of those who have rejected God’s truth (Rom 1:24-25). The term ἀτιμάζεσθαι (dishonor) carries the connotation of shame.[39] This shame is likely the cause of most of the negative psychological issues associated with transgenderism. It cannot be cast off or shifted to others as the secular proponents contend. Rather, repentance for transgender beliefs and behaviors combined with faith in Jesus Christ will remedy the psychological problems and distress in time. Describing the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul shows that the gospel moves one from insensitivity toward God’s Word to receptivity, from slavery in sin to freedom, from shame to glory, from deception to truth, and from spiritual blindness to enlightenment (2 Cor 3:12-4:6).

In the Bible, refusal to acknowledge and confess sin results in intense psychological turmoil that leads to psychosomatic problems. David writes, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away…My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer” (Ps 32:3-4). Confession of sin to God results in forgiveness of guilt (Ps 32:2, 5) and אַשְֽׁרֵי (perfect happiness: Ps 32:1-2).[40] Adams agrees, “God’s remedy for man’s problem is confession. The concealing of transgressions brings misery, defeat and ruin, but the confession and forsaking of sin will bring merciful pardon and relief.”[41]

However, direction to confess transgender beliefs and actions alone will not be sufficient care for transgender people. Pastors must instruct them that such confession must spring out of a life-surrendering faith in Jesus. This faith receives God’s grace in that the sinner is imputed with Jesus’ righteousness so he is justified from sin (Rom 4:22-25) and transformed to live consistently with God’s will (Eph 2:8-10). Matthew Stanford explains,

When we come to faith in him, that dead, separated spirit is nailed to the cross with Christ, never to return (Galatians 2:20). In its place, the Spirit of Christ takes up residence in us (Galatians 4:6; Colossians 3:1-3). We are alive for the first time—in spiritual union with God! The believer is complete in Christ; we have everything we need for life and godliness in him (2 Peter 1:3).[42]

Salvation acquired through faith in Jesus, not only restores transgender people to God and frees them to live consistently with truth, but also imparts to them the hope of eternal life. By trusting in Jesus, they are removed from God’s condemnation (Rom 8:1) and ensured eternal life with Him (Jn 3:16; 14:1-6).

Biblical Redirection

          Pastors should provide Biblical guidance to transgender people who have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Transgender people who have become Christians will first need help centering their identity in Christ instead of their desire to be a member of the opposite sex. In Colossians, Paul argues against Judaizes who advocated for the necessity of following Old Testament cultic laws in addition to faith in Jesus for salvation. Paul assures the Colossians that they are “made complete” in Christ (Col 2:10).  πεπληρωμένοι (made complete) is a perfect participle directing the reader’s attention to the time in the past when he trusted in Jesus and received salvation that resulted in a continual state of completeness. The idea is that the Christian has been fully supplied with everything he needs to be accepted into God’s favor and restored to a position of wholeness. He is complete in and through Christ.

Paul further warns the Colossians not to seek further fullness through circumcision which he describes as “self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” and instructs that these actions “are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23). For transgender people, pastors can direct them to realize that they are whole in Christ, without changing their bodies. Kline and Schrock point out the application of spiritual circumcision that happens in Christ allowing one to be set apart for God through faith alone (Col 2:8-15) in counseling transgender people. They claim, “despite the sincerest intentions of transsexuals, the surgery they desire to perform on the body needs to be performed on their heart…what they need is not a new body, but a new heart.”[43]

Paul encourages the Colossians under temptation toward seeking completeness apart from Christ to remember their union with Christ. They died with Christ to a life at odds with God (Col 2:20), have been raised up with Christ so they can pursue God’s will (Col 3:1-2) and when Christ returns, their bodies will be perfected in glory (Col 3:4). Now those who saw themselves as transgender people pursuing the lifestyle and thinking of the opposite sex are now encouraged to “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:5). By their new union with Christ, they may pursue life in accordance with God’s will for them, including living out the gender in which He gave them.

One further idea needs addressed here. The current culture has sought to persuade those tempted toward transgender behaviors that their discordant feelings must define their identity.[44] However, in First Corinthians 6:9-11, directing the Corinthian church toward holy living, Paul lists several sins which will disqualify a person from salvation. Three of these sins included together deal with sexual immorality. One term, μαλακοὶ (effeminate) is a term used often to mean “soft” but was applied to a male who becomes the receptive partner in a same-sex intercourse.[45] Indeed, it speaks of a man who is taking on the sexual role of a woman. However, Paul reminds them of a powerful truth that should change the way they think and live. He says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Branch explains, “Many people who have been born again previously practiced such things prior to knowing Christ, yet the gospel empowered them to put these evil actions in the past. This…does mean they have a new desire to serve God and a new power to say no to what God forbids.”[46]

Second, transgender people who have trusted in Christ will need Scriptural guidance in understanding and accepting their biological gender. Throughout the creation account of Genesis 1, the refrain “and God saw that it was good” is repeated after each creative act. At the end of the account, Moses recorded, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

Included in this account is God’s creation of mankind. Moses wrote, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). God’s good creation of mankind was divided into two groups: male and female. God has provided only two genders which, once given, are unchanging. Kenneth Matthews states, “There is no place in God’s good order for unisexuality or for any diminishing or confusion of sexual identity…The proper role of the sexes therefore is crucial to God’s designs for human life and prosperity.”[47] These genders are equal in value because they each have and express the imago Dei (image of God) in different but significant ways. They have different roles in the family (Eph 5:22-33) and in the church (1 Tim 2-3).

The complimentary nature of the two sexes within marriage is intended to bring glory to God by reflecting the character of God and the relationship of Jesus and the church in the gospel (Eph 5:22-33). Masculinity and Femininity each reflect God’s glory and character through differences in strength and beauty, sacrificial leadership and humble submission, protection and nurture. Gordon Wenham emphasizes that the distinctions of male and female focuses on the sexual distinctions that foreshadow the blessing of fertility.[48] Transgenderism, when carried out, disables fertility and severs God-directed roles from biological sex.

Finally, a pastor must provide hope and direction for a life lived in God’s will, even in cases where sex reassignment surgery has occurred. As mentioned earlier, those whose genitals had been damages, through accident, force, or personal volition, were not allowed to enter the assembly of God’s people or serve as priests. Yet, Isaiah 56:3-5 promises great hope of salvation for the eunuch who enters into a covenant relationship with God by God’s terms. While the image of a eunuch as a “dry tree” may mean that he can have no children, which would certainly be true, Gary Smith offers another possibility, “maybe the point goes even beyond this issue, for a dry tree is usually considered worthless, useless, and is consequently burnt up in a fire.”[49] But the promise for the eunuch, who cannot reverse what has already happened to his body, can now choose to live a life that honors God within His covenant, and can receive honor and eternal blessings.

Jesus provides great hope for transgender people who turn to Him. While, if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery which cannot be reversed and should not marry, they can still find joy in serving God in singleness. Jesus speaks of three types of eunuchs when he talked about the usefulness of singleness for the Lord. Some were those “who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12).

If someone had carried out their transgenderism to the point of becoming like a eunuch, now in Christ, he may live a life fully dedicated to God. This idea of singleness is upheld and encourage by the Apostle Paul also. He states, “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32). John Chrysostom highlights the blessings of this kind of singleness. He writes, “Thank God therefore now, for that with rewards and crowns thou undergoes this.”[50] The transgender person who turns to Christ, will find a place to belong and a fruitful and fulfilling life serving Christ’s Kingdom.


          This paper has sought to show that pastoral care for transgender individuals will direct them to find a new identity in Christ according to the Scriptures which will enable them to celebrate their God-given gender. An argument for the authority of the Bible over subjective feelings or empirical efforts was made. An understanding of life-giving salvation by turning to Jesus Christ was explained. Finally, Biblical passages relevant to counseling those individuals who have turned to Christ out of transgenderism were discussed. There is true and lasting hope and healing in the gospel, not only for transgender people, but for all who will surrender to Jesus in faith.



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Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur 4th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Atkinson, David J. and David H. Field, eds. New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Public Domain: Nabu Press, 2010.

Benjamin, Harry. The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York: The Julian Press, 1966.

Branch, Alan J. Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures. Wooster, OH: Weaver Books Company, 2016.

Branch, Alan J. Lecture Notes for DR 31280 The Bible and Pastor Care, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 2, 2018

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Robert White Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014.

Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12, Volume 6B, Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Chrysostom, John. NPNF: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1.10, Edited by Philip Schaff. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Danker, Fredrick William, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

Fox, Nili Sacher. “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5.” In Mishneb Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Context in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay. Edited by Nili Sacher Fox, D.A. Glat-Gilad, and M.J. Williams. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009. 49-71.

Grosheide, F.W. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1980.

Heimbach, Daniel. Pagan Sexuality: At the Center of the Contemporary Moral Crisis. Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001.

Henry, Carl F. ed. Baker Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1973.

Hruz, Paul W., Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh. “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria.” In The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society 52 (June 2017), 3-36.

Kline, Craig and David Schrock. “What Is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal.” In Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 20.1 (Spring 2015): 35-47.

Louth, Andrew, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I: Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press, 2001.

Matthews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.

Merrill, Eugene H. Deuteronomy, New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.

Morris, Leon. 1 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

O’Donovan, Oliver. “Transsexualism and Christian Marriage.” In The Journal of Religious Ethics 11.1 (Spring 1983): 135-162.

Pattison, E.M. “Gender Identity.” In Baker Encycopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed. Edited by David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill. Grand Rapids, BakerBooks, 1999. 487-491.

Rooker, Mark. Leviticus, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace, eds. NPNF: The Seven Ecumenical Councils 2.14. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 40-66, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.

Standford, Matthew S. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth.” In HHS Publication SMA 15-4928 (2015).

Swaab, Dick F. and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras. “Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain in Relation to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.” In Functional Neurology 24 Vol. 1 (2009): 17-28.

Taylor, Mark. 1 Corinthians, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.

Thornbury, Gergory Alan. “Prolegomena: Introduction to the Task of Theology.” In A Theology for the Church Edited by Daniel L. Akin. (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2007), 5.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus, New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-15. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.

Young, P.D. “Gender Identity Disorder.” In Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed. Edited by David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1999. 491.


End Notes

[1] Daniel Heimbach, Pagan Sexuality: At the Center of the Contemporary Moral Crisis (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001), 6.

[2] Harry Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon (New York: The Julian Press, 1966), ix.

[3] Ibid., 105.

[4]  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” HHS Publication SMA 15-4928 (2015): 3.

 [5] Dick F. Swaab and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras, “Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain in Relation to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” Functional Neurology 24 Vol. 1 (2009): 18.

[6] J. Alan Branch, Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures (Wooster, OH: Weaver Books Company, 2016), 82-83.

[7]  πρεσβυτέρους denotes spiritual maturity and an ability to set a faithful example of life in submission to God. ἐπισκόποις communicates leadership.  ποιμένας is only used once in its nounal form (Eph 4:11) but accompanies the two previous terms in its verbal form (Acts 20:17, 28 and 1 Peter 5:1-5). Further, it conveys the task of spiritual provision and guidance through instruction and care.

[8] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Robert White (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 723.

[9]  Gregory Alan Thornbury, “Prolegomena: Introduction to the Task of Theology” in A Theology for the Church, Daniel L. Akin, ed. (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2007), 5.

[10]  Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 114.

[11]  Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 126.

[12] Oliver O’Donovan, “Transsexualism and Christian Marriage” The Journal of Religious Ethics 11.1 (Spring 1983): 157-158.

[13] The comprehensive nature of the inspiration of God’s Word is seen in David’s use of terms with overlapping meaning (מִֽשְׁפְּטֵי, מִצְוַת, פִּקּוּדֵי, עֵדוּת, תֹּורַת) to describe the Word of God.

[14]  Also see John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and 2 Peter 1:2-3, 20-21.

[15]  American Psychiatric Association, DSM V/American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder, 5th ed. (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013), 451.

[16] Nili Sacher Fox, “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5” in Mishneb Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Context in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay, Nili Sacher Fox, D.A. Glat-Gilad, and M.J. Williams, eds. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 53-55.

[17] Fox, “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5,” 59-61.

[18] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1980), 977.

[19]  Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12, Volume 6B, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 492.

[20] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 287.

[21] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 451.

[22] Either by having crushed testicles (פְצֽוּעַ־דַּכָּא), done intentionally at times by the use of stones for castration, or the removal of the penis (וּכְרוּת שָׁפְכָה).

[23] Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 297.

[24] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 307.

[25] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., NPNF: The Seven Ecumenical Councils 2.14 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 8.

[26]  Alan Branch, lecture notes for DR 31280 The Bible and Pastor Care, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 2, 2018.

[27] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 451.

[28]  American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 458; and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” 1, 11, 13, 14.

[29]  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” 20.

[30] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 454.

[31] Ibid., 458.

[32] In addition to the causes of the heart which will be discussed below, the Western world easily forgets about spiritual causes from demonic forces. In the Scriptures, those who serve demonic deities or who are demoniacs are often seen harming their own bodies. John Chrysostom writes about those who remove their genital organs, “For to cut off our members hath been from the beginning a work of demoniacal agency, and satanic device, that they may bring up a bad report upon the work of God, that they may mar this living creature” in NPNF: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1.10, Philip Schaff, ed., (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 384.

[33]  Extensive and common complications arise from sex reassignment surgeries such as a fifty percent wound infection rate, massive bleeding, urinary problems, incontinence, problems with the urethra, infertility, an inability to orgasm, leaking of seminal fluid, hypoactive sex drives, etc. See Craig Kline and David Schrock, “What Is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal,” Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 20.1 (Spring 2015): 35-47 and especially 40-41. For a discussion on the dangers of puberty suppressing medications now in vogue see Paul W. Hruz, Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh, “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria” The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society 52 (June 2017), 3-36.

[34] Jay Adams, speaking of many mental problems of which he would likely apply transgenderism, says, “Their problem is autogenic; it is in themselves. The fundamental bent of fallen human nature is away from God. Man is born in sin, goes astray…and will therefore naturally (by nature) attempt various sinful dodges in an attempt to avoid facing up to his sin.” In Competent to Counsel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 29.

[35]  William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur 4th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 293.

[36]  For a discussion concerning the feelings and behaviors of transgender people, see P.D. Young, “Gender Identity Disorder” in Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed., David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, eds. (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1999), 491.

[37] Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 9.

[38] Ibid., 126.

[39] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 119.

[40] Harris, Archer, and Waltke prefer the translation “bliss” over happiness. In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 80.

[41] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 105.

[42] Matthew S. Standford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 22.

[43] Kline and Schrock, “What is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal,” 45.

[44] Alan Branch warns of the modern propensity to turn sexual issues into identity issues in Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, 135.

[45]  Fredrick William Danker, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 613. Also, see Gordon Fee’s excellent discussion on this term in The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 243-245.

[46] Branch, Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, 135-136.

[47] Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 173-174.

[48] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-15, (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 33.

[49]  Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 533.

[50] John Chrysostom, NPNF: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1.10 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 384.

Dealing with Disease

During the course of our lives, most of us will have some sort of health concerns and difficulties. It’s easy to get frustrated, discouraged, or even depressed in the midst of such concerns. However, God has a much better plan for us through these hardships that He allows to come our way. So how should we understand these difficulties? How should we respond to them?

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First, remember that God is in control. After Jesus warned His disciples of the difficulties which would come as a result of following Him, He taught them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). God concerns Himself with even the most minor circumstances such as the death of sparrows and the number of hairs on each individual’s head. Jesus reasons that since mankind is far more valuable than sparrows and more important than the quantity of a person’s hair, we can be sure that God oversees every detail of our lives—sickness included.  Sickness, disease, and difficulties do not surprise God when they come into your life. He knew they would come to you. He allowed them to come to you. He is in control of whether they come, when they come, and how long they last. And indeed, He is right there with you directing your situation and protecting you from greater harm than is coming. He sifts every offense the enemy desires to bring against you through His mighty hands and only allows what He desires through to you.

Second, remember that God loves you. During times of disease and difficulty, our faith in God’s goodness is tested and we are tempted to focus on ourselves and withhold praise from God. We may ask, “Does God really love me?” Yet, Jesus answered that question definitively on the cross. Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and again “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). If our whole lives fall apart and our entire health diminishes, we can still say with great certainty, “God loves me dearly” and we can affirm Job’s statements, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10) and “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). In times of difficulty, dwell on the love of Christ (Philippians 4:8) rather than on the hardship of your situation.

Third, realize that the ultimate cause of all suffering is sin.  God created the whole world perfectly (Genesis 1:31). Disease, difficulty, division, depression, and death only came as a result of sin entering into God’s perfect world and more specifically as a result of the separation that sin brings between man and God (Isaiah 59:1-2). God is the source of all life, all goodness, all health, and all flourishing. When we are separated from God, we are separated from the abundance of His provisions. If sin never entered the world, our health would be perfect and our lives would be eternal. In many instances, we suffer disease, not because we have sinned, but simply because we live in a fallen world that has been ravished by sin (John 9:1-12). However, there are other instances where we experience disease and difficulty as discipline from the Lord for sin in our lives. King Uzziah incurred life-long leprosy for his pride and disobedience to the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). Some of the Corinthians were “weak and sick” and some had even died because they took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way (1 Corinthians 11:27-31). Ananias and Sapphira died instantly because they lied to the Holy Spirit and the church (Acts 5:1-11). When we experience bad health, it is a calling to examine our lives for sin. If we find any sin, we should then repent. James directed sick believers to call the pastors of the church to come and pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord to find restoration (James 5:14-15). Pastors’ primary task is to preach the Word of God and the gospel which calls us to repent of sin and trust in Jesus (Acts 6:4). Anointing with oil is associated with the call to repent in the New Testament (Mark 6:12-14). We may be sick merely because we live in a sick, sin-fallen world or we may be sick because we have sinned. Our sickness is a good reminder to search our hearts and actions for sin and repent—knowing that if not for sin, no one would know sickness.

Fourth, look to the future of our great salvation. Jesus became a man, lived a perfect life in this sin-fallen world, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven in order to conquer sin and its effects on us. While we’re forgiven of sin the instant we trust in Jesus, we still experience the suffering that sin has caused in this world. But a day is coming when Christ will return. When He does, He will free us from the presence of sin and all the ill it has worked in our lives—including health problems. In our salvation, we have a future resurrection in which we will be given perfect bodies that will never have ailments. Paul says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Even if our health concerns take our abilities, our minds, or even our lives, they cannot conquer us who are in Christ for Christ has promised to raise us with a perfect body that will never be tainted with sin. In your struggle with health concerns, find certain hope in the promise of your resurrected body.

Fifth, realize that God has a purpose for allowing your difficulties. We know that God is in control. We know that God loves us. Then why does He allow us to have health issues if He could prevent them? Consider the core of our faith—God sent His Son in order to suffer. Isaiah says, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” But why would God be pleased with the suffering of His Son? Isaiah continues, “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10). Because Jesus desired to make Himself a guilt offering, an offering that would cover over our sins so we could be forgiven and accepted by God. It was through Jesus’ sufferings that we became “His offspring,” that His days, and ours, would be prolonged in resurrection, and that God’s will would prosper. So when we suffer health concerns, we must pray, “God, I know you’re in control and that you love me dearly. What would you like to accomplish through my problems?” God has promised to work out good for Jesus’ followers in all our circumstances—even health problems (Romans 8:28). In your suffering, God may be guiding you to repent of sin, or to share the gospel with someone you meet because of your suffering, or to rely on and value Him above your health and natural abilities, or to grow in character through your trials. So when you struggle with your health, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:27-30).

So brothers and sisters, when we struggle with health concerns, we don’t have to be discouraged by what has happened, depressed by what we’re experiencing, or afraid of what is to come. We have a faith that gives us hope for our discouragement, joy for our depression, and certainty for our fears. Let’s consider the words of Paul in His physical ailments, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). May God lead us to honor Him through our difficulties and may He bless you as you continue to follow the Lord Jesus who suffered for us.

The Gospel: A Bird’s Eye View

God has blessed us greatly by sending the gospel of Jesus Christ to us that we might be saved and through us that we might lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ. But, in order to lead others, we have to understand the nature of the gospel. What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The word gospel translates a word from the New Testament which means “a good message.” And our message is not any “good message” but it is the “good message” about Jesus Christ. To gain a deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus, it is helpful to step back and get a bigger, broader picture of the gospel.


So what is the big picture of the gospel? While the Bible is composed of 66 books, written by over 40 different authors, in three different languages, and a time spanning around 2,000 years, there is one grand storyline that runs throughout the pages of the Bible. This storyline, or better yet, this grand narrative is the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. We can see this storyline in four different acts that begin in Genesis and end in Revelation.

The first act is CREATION. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). In eternity past, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) existed, but the universe did not. All exists because God decided to create. Since God is perfect, everything He does and creates must also be perfect. Therefore, after the creation account we read, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). There was nothing wrong with the world: no disease, no hardship, no broken-relationships, no pollution, no disaster, no messed up bodies or minds, no disobedience to God, and no death. However, we look around us and realize that the world is far from perfect now. If God created everything perfectly, how did we get where we are now? This leads us to the second act.

The second act is the FALL of mankind into sin. Sin refers to both attitudes and actions contrary to God’s direction; simply put, sin is disobedience to God. God warned the first man that sin would lead to death (Gen 2:15-17). By death, God meant both a spiritual death of separation from Himself, the source of all life (Isa 59:2), and a delayed physical death that resulted from being cut off from that source (Gen 3:19). When the first man sinned, his nature changed. He became a sinner. He passed this sinful nature on to every one of his decedents—to all of mankind so that we are all sinners by nature (Rom 5:19) from conception (Psa 51:5). Every human lives consistently with that nature by disobeying God (Rom 3:23). The result of being a sinner is God’s condemnation in Hell for eternity (2 Pet 2:4-10). If nothing changes, every human being would be in a grave and desperate eternal state. But this leads us to the third act.

The third act is RESCUE through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. From the moment that mankind fell into sin, God promised to send a Savior into the world (Gen 3:15) to destroy Satan and bless all the people groups of the earth. As the Old Testament continues, we see mankind’s inability to make ourselves right with God and we see more details given about who this Savior would be. He would come as a decedent of Abraham (Gen 12:3), a decedent of Isaac (Gen 26:4), a decedent of Jacob (Gen 28:14), a decedent of Judah (Gen 49:10), and a decedent of David (2 Sam 7:12-13), just as Matthew testifies (Mt 1:1-18). He would be a prophet with power like that of Moses who would serve as a mediator between God and mankind (Duet 18:15-17). He would come as a Substitutionary Savior, taking the punishment for sin that belonged to others (Isa 53). He would be a Priestly-King in the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110). He would be born of a virgin in order to be God-Among-Mankind once again (Isa 7:14). He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), would be the faithful Israelite who would return from Egypt (Hos 11:1), would be the true Shepherd betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). Jesus came and lived a perfect life of obedience toward God the Father, He died on the cross, willingly taking the punishment of others upon Himself. He was buried and rose on the third day. He ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father. When Jesus came, He confirmed all of this when He said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The word “believes” in the New Testament speaks of a sincere trust that results in a change of life. When someone surrenders to Jesus as Lord and Savior in faith, God saves him or her from death and Hell (Rom 10:9-13) and changes his or her nature from sinner to saint (2 Cor 5:17).

The fourth act is the RESTORATION in which Jesus makes all things new. When Jesus came the first time, He made a way for those who would trust Him to be made right with God, forgiven of sin, transformed into those who obey God in faith, and promised eternal life. Yet, the world is still corrupted by sin and its results. Will things ever be made right again? Paul tells us that the whole world is eagerly waiting that day (Rom 8:19-25). Jesus promised that He would return and make everything right (Matt 16:27). He will do so by destroying the present world, creating a new heavens and earth, perfecting His people, living among His people, and condemning forever those who reject Him (Rev 21:1-8). The eternal state of genuine born-again Christians will be like that of mankind in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Rev 22:1-5).

So, the Bible has one storyline, one grand narrative that can be thought of in the acts of Creation, Fall, Rescue, and Restoration. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel in which we have trusted. This is the gospel of which we are blessed to testify (Acts 1:8). May God bless you as we join together in sharing this good message of Jesus Christ.