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The Holy Spirit Series: 37 Topics for Further Meditation and Study

June 25, 2021 2 comments

As mentioned in a recent post, I’m now listening to Alan Cairns sermons, and appreciating the teaching.  One series of particular interest: 37 sermons in all, about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  The sermons were preached in 1986-87, and overall still very relevant now, over 30 years later.  I’m now listening to the 19th in the series, so about halfway through.  

As noted early in this series, and I think still true today, this tends to be a neglected teaching in modern Protestantism / evangelicalism, with relatively few sermon series — and none I’ve found that are of this length, exploring so many aspects of the Holy Spirit.  The 37 lessons are described by Cairns as ‘introductions,’ each of which could be a springboard to further study and meditation. These include a broad range of Old and New Testament scriptures, with teaching on the ‘first mention’ as well as a few interesting word study topics along the way.  The earlier sermons start with the basic, general activities and operations of the Holy Spirit — such as the personality of the Holy Spirit, inspiration of scripture, regeneration, indwelling, sanctification, the fruit of the Spirit, and move on to additional specifics such as Adoption, the Earnest of the Spirit, Assurance in the witness of the Spirit, and later topics such as the Leading of the Holy Spirit.

Among some of the highlights:  

  • Genesis 1:1-5 is the First Mention of the Holy Spirit.  A.W. Pink taught the importance of the first mention, the last mention, and the main mention. Accordingly, the very last in this series, is on the Final Mention of the Holy Spirit.
  • On the leading of the Spirit:  Those who are led by the Spirit must first be indwelled, filled by the Holy Spirit.  In our day (in 1986 and still true), so many people talk about how they want “the Spirit’s leading,” but they are living carnal lives, not walking in the Spirit, not focused on the things of God.  

    Here, Dr. Cairns noted the sequence of Jesus’ ministry.  FIRST, Christ was given the full measure of the Spirit, the public    event of His baptism and the appearance in the form of a dove.  THEN, He was Led by the Spirit — and the leading was into the wilderness, into hardship and physical suffering.

  • Seven Symbols of the Holy Spirit
    • Dove — Ref. Genesis 8.
    • Wind — Speaks to God’s Sovereignty.  Ref. John 3:  the wind blows; we cannot control it
    • Breath — vitality.  Adam’s body that was created, before the breath put into it, can be likened to churches and schools that are without the Spirit
    • Fire — potency.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit with fire — reference Acts 2, Pentecost. 
    • Water — outpouring of the Spirit .  The Spirit overflowing and spontaneous, here especially, what makes Christians useful in service to others.  Reference John chapters 3, 4 and 7, Isaiah 44:3; and Ezekiel 47,  the water that becomes deeper and deeper
    • Oil — anointing oil, authority in service; unity; and necessity of the oil—virgins with oil in their lamps
    • Fury of the Spirit — reference Revelation 4:5, the seven torches of fire; fury of the Spirit.  Old Testament references include the torches of Gideon.
  • Sanctification:  Galatians 5:22-23 lists nine fruits of the Spirit, and we can think of these in three categories of three each.  The first three relate to God:  love, joy, peace; the next three deal with our relationships with others: patience, kindness, and goodness; and the last three have respect to our circumstances of life:  faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

It’s an interesting and helpful study, with many more topics, and each generally a stand-alone topic, yet all within the overall, encompassing truths regarding the Holy Spirit, to help understand more about the role of the Third Person of the Triune God.

Christ’s Burial and the Apostles’ Creed

July 13, 2015 12 comments

Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, the in-depth study of chapter 8 of the confession (Christ’s mediatorial work) includes a lesson on the question of Christ’s burial (available here) and time in the grave, specifically looking at the issue of the Apostles’ Creed (see this recent post that also mentions the Apostles’ Creed) and its statement that “he (Christ) descended into hell.”

This statement did not appear in the earlier forms of the Apostles’ Creed, but showed up by the 4th century.  Later Christians have considered the importance of this early creed, desiring to show the continuation of the orthodox faith from its early history — and have thus attempted to explain what the early church meant by this statement.  This lesson in the 1689 series mentions six “interpretations” of what was meant by “he descended into hell”:

  1. Rufinus  – the first interpretation, from A.D. 390:  it means “he descended into the grave, the abode/realm of the dead.”  Yet this is redundant, as the previous phrase has already told us that “he was buried.”
  2. John Calvin – the view described in the Heidelberg catechism.  Jesus suffered hell on the cross; the sufferings, felt in His soul, an infinite amount of wrath in a finite period of time.  Certainly this is true, but does not fit with what the Apostles’ Creed meant—the sequence is wrong.  If they had meant this, the line would have been earlier in the creed, instead of after the part about being crucified, buried and dead.
  3. The view of the Westminster confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession, also stated in the Westminster Larger Catechism:  “He remained in the state of the dead; the realm of the dead.” Again, redundant to say buried and descended into being dead.
  4. The “Roman Catholic” view, which is also commonly taught in Arminian Baptist churches: this view expands into much speculation, though at least they come up with scripture references, as for instance the story in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom.  Here is the idea that Christ during this time went in His soul (not His body) into the holding place where OT saints were waiting for the application of redemptive work; He preached the gospel to them (“got them fully saved”) and then brought them out from there into heaven.  Other proof-texts for this view include Ephesians 4:8-9 – “He descended into the lower regions” (some think this means hell, below Earth, instead of the Earth itself).  A better way to understand this, though, is the contrast between the lower regions as the earth, versus the higher regions (ascending to heaven).  Additional texts for this view include 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:4-6, and the above lesson explains the supposed idea here as well as other ways to understand these texts.
  5. The Lutheran view: Jesus went to hell, to the place of torment for the damned – not to suffer, but to preach judgment upon them and declare His victory and Lordship, as somehow an inauguration of His victory march. The problem here is complete speculation with no proof from scripture, plus the fact that Christ’s burial was part of His humiliation; this was before the resurrection, and not at all the time of His exaltation.
  6. The Anglican view: Jesus went down to the place of the dead, and gave a fuller explanation of the gospel to the OT saints who were waiting there. Again, this is only speculation, with no proof from scripture or any indication that the writers of the apostles’ creed believed this.

As Hodgins observed, in quoting Wayne Grudem on this subject, certainly we should appreciate the Apostles’ creed as an early statement from the historic church.  But the historical importance alone is not a good reason for “keeping” this phrase and seeking to somehow explain it away.  We don’t really know exactly what the early church meant by it, and a survey of early church history does tell us that the early church fathers were wrong on some of their theology.  This is certainly brought out in the RTS Christian History series, including the fact that understanding of the Trinity, and even the nature of the Father and Son, was not fully developed until the Arian controversy in the mid-4th century; before that time, even Tertullian held onto some idea of the Son being subordinate to the Father and just didn’t develop his thoughts to the full level that is now considered an orthodox view of the Trinity.

Study: The Doctrine of the Trinity, and Its Practical Implications

February 4, 2015 2 comments

Continuing through Arden Hodgins’ exposition of the 1689 London Baptist confession, the “chapter two” content includes a helpful mini-series of 12 lectures on the doctrine of the Trinity: about the Trinitarian teaching itself, as well as implications of our understanding of the triune Godhead.

The early messages set forth the basics, addressing the common heresies of modalism, Arianism (or Unitarianism, Christ is a created being), and polytheism. Several “deep considerations” are next examined, including the truth of the Eternal Generation of the Son (sometimes called ”Eternal Sonship”), as well as the ideas described by two Latin words: filioque and perichoresis. These two points were new to me, and the study here was interesting, with discussion of the different views of the Eastern and Western church. The 1689 confession includes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, referencing this term first referenced in the Nicene creed in the 6th century. The Eastern church rejected this idea, having the Spirit proceed only from the Father. This may not seem all that much of a distinction, until we consider the implications of the Eastern church view: an imbalanced Trinity where the Son and the Spirit are seen as both subordinate to the Father, such that the three are not in equal relationship with each other. The next term, perichoresis, means that each member of the trinity is present in the activities of the others. All were involved in creation. The Holy Spirit is present in us who believe, and also the Father and the Son. Here, the Western church had erred in its over-emphasis on the different roles of each member of the trinity, whereas the Eastern church saw the balancing point that – even though each member of the Godhead has specific roles and activity, we must also see their equality, unity and agreement, that the Father and Son and Spirit are all present and involved in all of God’s activities.

The practical implications are quite interesting, especially as they relate to political government structures, as well as for the family (the biblical understanding of submission, as referenced in this previous post), the corporate church experience, our salvation itself, and our worship. Our God is a relational God, one who has within Himself the perfect balance between individuals and their unity –unity and diversity. In our own fallen world, in human history, we see the continual back-and-forth between two extremes in society: hyper-individualism (what we have in America today) versus hyper-collectivism of totalitarian regimes. Of note here: the history of Athens (hyper-individual) and Sparta (hyper-collective), two cities which clashed to the point of war with each other. In nations, hyper-individualism leads to anarchy, which is replaced by totalitarian rule. The hyper-collective of totalitarian rule leads to revolution.

We also observe Islam as an example of a Unitarian system of belief. The Muslim God is a monad, a solitary being with no relationships with others. The Islamic system acts out the ideas of that type of god, the collectivist/totalitarian mindset, demonstrating (as with so many other non-Christian religions) that people do not rise above the level of the type of deity they worship.

The trinity has implications for family and church structure, such that the healthy family and the healthy church keep proper balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community. Unhealthy churches include the hyper-individualism of churches with many and diverse programs for various age groups, different social demographics, the common problem of too many churches that minister to the “felt needs” of individuals. The other extreme church type may be less common, but can be seen in churches that over-emphasize unity such that everyone must believe the same way even on secondary, peripheral ideas. Hodgins provides examples here, of churches that say “home school only,” or churches that are economically based such that everyone here is of the higher social class, or only of a certain generation (only younger people in this church).

The final two lessons return to more directly doctrinal teaching:

  • The Trinity in Salvation – Redemption planned (Father – pactum salutis), Redemption accomplished (Son – historia salutis) and Redemption applied (the Holy Spirit – ordo salutis)
  • The Trinity in Worship: our proper worship of the triune God.

A biblical understanding of the Trinity gives us the correct understanding of the atonement (all members of the Trinity are working together to accomplish particular redemption) and will keep us from a man-centered gospel.

Triune worship includes mainly corporate worship, but private worship also, as we recognize that preaching the Word is part of worship, as well as our private worship of prayer, praises and practical obedience in our daily lives.  The first four commandments of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) are related to worship.  In closing, some final thoughts from this series regarding the Trinity and our worship:

Even as the Godhead has a perfect balance between the one and the many, we also in our worship have to have that balance. If we emphasize the Holy Spirit so much, we will go wrong, and our Christian lives will suffer for it. If we emphasize Christ to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit, we will go off track. If we emphasize the Father and forget about the Son and the Spirit, we will also go off track. We need to be balanced in our worship, Trinitarian in our worship, consciously so. Let us delight in the Trinity. It’s not a problem to be solved, it’s a reality to be enjoyed. It’s a truth to be defended and proclaimed. It’s a relationship to be known and cherished.

‘Christ is Awesome’? Remember the Father Who Sent Him

April 25, 2014 3 comments

It is common, especially in places of superficial and shallow teaching, to hear Christians focus on the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, in a way that neglects the more in-depth teaching of the whole counsel of God. For instance, recently at a local church someone proclaimed “Christ is Awesome!” — a great thought so far as it goes, but incomplete and limited in its perspective. I prefer instead the wording, as expressed in bumper stickers years ago, “God is Awesome” (reference the Rich Mullins song “Our God is an Awesome God”), which more accurately focuses attention on the Lord God, considering the work of the Triune God and God’s Divine Purpose.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his 1 John series, addressed this very point, that our gratitude should include not only Christ the Son, but also the Father who sent Him:

The Father sent the Son, so that the gratitude that we have — because we’ve come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior — is not a gratitude that should stop at Christ. It should go on, as our Lord taught us, to embrace the Father who sent the Son. In fact, the Lord Jesus says, that everything He did was done at the command and the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus acted for the Father. He carried out the Father’s will. And as far as going to the cross is concerned, it’s the Father who led Him to the cross. In other words, what I’m saying, my Christian friend, is that the Lord Jesus Christ is full of the love that the Father sent Him to carry out toward us. Never forget that.

 

The Trinity In the Old Testament: Daniel 9?

January 17, 2014 4 comments

I’ve recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” series, including a three-part section that exposits Daniel 9:24-27, considering the details of the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy.

Dr. Johnson gets interesting in the details, as always in his exposition of Old Testament texts.  While noting that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly taught, is not spelled out, in the Old Testament, in various expository lessons he notes specific texts that give some indication of “plurality in the Godhead,” as for instance the Genesis 1 creation text (the Hebrew plural word Elohim) and Isaiah 48. Here S. Lewis Johnson presents another such indirect possible reference to the Trinity,  concerning Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 — a text I had never thought of as containing such; but other commentators, even John Calvin, have noticed this.

Here he (Daniel) says, “Now, therefore, our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his supplications, and cause your face to shine on your sanctuary for the Lord’s sake.”  Now, I’m not the first one, of course, who has ever noticed this.  As a matter of fact, Calvin himself noticed it.  “This verse contains the name of the Lord twice” he pointed out.  And many other expositors with him thought that this was an allusion to the second person of the Trinity, but the details are not spelled in, and so we have to leave it at that, as an anticipation of what would come to full understanding with the New Testament times.  Now, read on, verse 18.

“O my God, incline your ear and hear, open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city (Notice how large the city looms in Daniel’s thought) which is called by your name, for we do not present our supplication before you because of our righteous deeds but because of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act.”

Now, what would you think if I were to read this:  “O Lord Father, hear; O Lord Son, forgive; O Lord Spirit, listen and act.”  Three times the term “Lord” is on the lips of Daniel.  Again, I’m not the first person who has noticed this in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity. … many exegetes and some dogmaticians have suggested that there is an allusion to the mystery of the Holy Trinity even in this verse as well.

Jesus’ Words: My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God

March 12, 2013 2 comments

Nearing the end of S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, comes this interesting point regarding Jesus’ words after His resurrection, as recorded in John 20:17:

I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.

This is one of many places in the word of God, where we see the amazing precision of the words spoken.  After all, why did Jesus say “my … and your …” instead of the overall term “our … and our…”?  In the precise language used, we see the distinction in kind between us as adopted children, and Christ the eternal Son.

S. Lewis Johnson explains it well, describing in precise doctrinal terminology the difference between our relationship to God as our Father, versus the relationship that the Son has to the Father within the Triune Godhead:

There is a sense in which His God is our God and His Father is our Father, but there is a further sense which we do not share with Him in the paternal relationship with the eternal God.  He can say that God is His Father by eternal generation.  We cannot say that.  We can say that God is our Father by temporal regeneration.  But He can say it by eternal generation.  He doesn’t need any regeneration.  His relationship is an eternal relationship of Son.  The Father is eternal; the Son is the eternal Son.  We are now sons by temporal regeneration.  So our relationship is different from His, and yet we call Him Father.

Early Church History (Pre-Reformation): A Believers Chapel Series

April 14, 2011 1 comment

I recently listened to the first half of Dan Duncan’s (Believers Chapel Dallas) Church History series:  15 messages for the pre-Reformation period.  He started this series in 2009, and is still teaching the second part, forward from the Reformation.  (At this writing, 14 more messages are available, up through Calvin part 4.)

Over the years I’ve picked up different aspects of Church history, from evening classes at local churches, as well as assorted articles on different topics, but this is the first church-class series I’ve seen that goes into fairly good depth especially concerning pre-1500, and that presents history from the evangelical, Calvinist premillennial viewpoint.  The lessons generally center on topics, such as the canon of scripture, martyrs, the heretics, bishops and popes (beginning of that system), and pastors and teachers (highlighted four men from the 4th and 5th centuries).  Additional sessions discuss Arius, Athanasius, and Augustine (three sessions).  Unlike most church history series, this one included two messages for the “Dark Ages.”  While I tend to disagree with his broad brush labeling of the full thousand year period as the “Dark Ages,” Dan Duncan did point out that it wasn’t all dark, and brought out several highlights from the period, including Anselm (11th century), a German monk from the 9th century, and Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), as well as a brief history and proper perspective of the Crusades.

What standard Augustinian Reformed churches won’t address, this series points out:  the replacement theology inherent in the Crusades (the Holy Land is now for us Christians who have replaced the Jews), specifics of what Augustine taught both good and bad, and that Catholicism formed from Augustine’s ideas.  Other past series I’ve experienced would teach a great deal concerning the Jerusalem war of A.D. 70 and the subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt ( A.D. 130), but omit many of the early church history characters, only briefly discuss Augustine, and primarily teach the Reformation.  This series really doesn’t say a lot about the destruction of Jerusalem (a topic well known in many church history series but really not part of that history), except in passing comments about the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles in the Roman Empire.  Typical Reformed church history series will not mention Augustine’s connection to amillennialism and Catholicism — or if they do, uphold Augustine as on a par with inspired scripture.  In this series Dan Duncan devotes a full message to Augustine’s later years, the formation of his amillennialism, and a (brief) discussion of Augustine’s exegetical errors with reference to Revelation 20.

Even this series is a general overview, of course, and books always provide more details than can realistically be taught within a weekly church class.  Even two lessons to cover the whole Medieval period omits much —  though I expect the series will cover a little more, since one of the later messages (in the Reformation section) is titled “Forerunners.”  The lesson on the martyrs only discussed the majors among “the ten” persecutions, omitting the particular incident I personally appreciate: the martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicitas and a few others in Carthage in 202. Yet Duncan does teach about the Montanists (early Pentecostals) and Tertullian’s joining them, pointing out both their good and weak points; Perpetua and Felicitas were “almost certainly” Montanists as well.  Through this series I also learned about the modalists (original version of today’s oneness Pentecostals, who deny the trinity and say that God changed modes, from Father to Son to Spirit), and reviewed other important early theological battles concerning Christ’s human and divine natures as well as Arianism and Pelagianism. I also appreciated the additional information concerning Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux, men I had a little familiarity with.

The Trinity in the Old Testament: Isaiah 48

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Isaiah series come the following insights regarding Isaiah 48:12-16.

This passage contains a plea of God, for faith on the part of Israel.  This plea has several bases:
1)  Israel is My called; hearken unto me and trust Me (Isaiah 48:12).

2)  Israel’s Covenant Keeping God — “I am He.”  The passage emphasizes God’s complete sovereignty.  God is sovereign in time (v.12) “I am the first, and I am the last,” sovereign in space (v. 13 creation), and sovereign in history.  We also know who this “I am he” refers to:  Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.  In Revelation (verse ref here), Jesus applies the very next words, “I am the first and the last,” to Himself.  John’s Gospel also includes Jesus’s frequent use of the words “I am” and “I am He.”

3)  Divine calling of Israel’s God.  The last clause tells us, “And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.”

Well said S. Lewis Johnson in an earlier message that the last part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) can be called “Isaiah’s Gospel.” For here we also have an Old Testament teaching of the triune God, the Christian understanding of the trinity.  Through the progressive revelation of scripture that began with Moses’ declaration, “Hear, O  Israel, the Lord thy God is one God,” we now see God preparing Israel, in its further history here in Isaiah, to understand God’s three-in-one nature.

For the words “And now the Lord God has sent me” refer to two persons:  the “Lord God” is the Father, and “me” is the “I am he, the first and the last” at the beginning of this passage (verse 12) — Jesus Christ the Son.  The verse also tells us that God has “sent” both “me” (the “I am he,” Jesus Christ) and “his Spirit.”  The Spirit is also someone that can be “sent” — not some impersonal emanation, but a person.

SLJ also gives some interesting information concerning the Hebrew words used in the Jewish saying, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”  The Hebrew language has two words for unity (compound unity and absolute unity), and that verse literally says “Jehovah our Gods is Jehovah a unity” — Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad.  The compound unity word Ehad is the one used in the place where we read that man and wife shall marry and the two become one flesh.  The other word, for absolute unity, is used in the text where God refers to Abraham’s son Isaac as “his only son.”  The Hebrew word for absolute unity is never used to describe God.  As S. Lewis Johnson explains:

Jehovah our God is Jehovah Ehad, a compound unity.  As a matter of fact, as the progressive divine revelation unfolds we could take the Shema Yisrael, the great credo of Judaism and say “Jehovah our God is Jehovah a trinity.”  Now, Jehovah our God is Jehovah a Godhead, compound unity, and the details are spelled out as the revelation unfolds.  Here in Isaiah we are getting preparation for the time when we shall read of Father, Son and Spirit.

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Is Evangelism the Primary Purpose of the Christian Church?

October 8, 2010 1 comment

A recent blog discussion at Pyromaniacs considered the words of John Piper at the recent Desiring God conference on the topic of evangelism, also with reference to Rick Warren (one of the speakers there).  I didn’t quite understand the point of the author, though it seemed a type of criticism of John Piper for admitting that evangelism is not his first thought when he’s preaching.  As later comments brought out, the Pyro writer gives great emphasis to creeds, specifically citing numbers in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession, and thinks that a pastor’s work is a both/and with reference to shepherding his flock AND high concern for evangelism.

I have limited knowledge concerning the ministries of Piper and Warren, choosing to spend most of my free time in reading the Bible or other Christian writings, so the blog and its comments delved into unfamiliar specifics.  But it seems clear that an underlying issue in the discussion was, what is the focus and purpose of the Christian church, including the pastors and the members of the congregation?  Many believers emphasize the Church’s purpose as evangelism, including intentional evangelism.  Very few pointed out that we need to go beyond evangelism, to focus on the truth of God’s word, and none brought out a point that I find very interesting:  evangelism is not the great work of the Christian church.

In the Divine Purpose series, S. Lewis Johnson addressed this in a message that looked at Ephesians 2.  Ephesians 2:18 shows a trinitarian focus:  “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”  Here we see Paul’s perspective, that what our Lord wants is to have access to and communion with Him.  Jesus Christ wants to introduce us to the Father.

Johnson expands further on this point:

You know that is really the great end of the trinity.  We sometimes forget that.  We think the great end of the trinity is that we be saved.  It’s amazing to me after nineteen hundred years people still say the great work of the Christian church is evangelism.  That’s not the great work of the Christian church.  It is a great work.  One would not want to downgrade evangelism, but as we see in Colossians and through the New Testament the whole work of salvation is the great work of the church —  evangelism yes, but evangelism with a view to communion, with a view to maturity, with a view to edification.  Never forget that.  Don’t be carried away because some popular person has made a cliché statement like that.  That’s not true.  Stick to the Bible.  Stick to the words of Scripture.  Follow Scripture and you’ll be wise unto full salvation.  That’s what the Lord would like for all of us to have, a closer more intimate relationship to Him in edifying growth and the knowledge of Him.  So through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

Considering this understanding, and the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 — and the whole thrust of the book of Acts — like many others, I see nothing wrong with John Piper’s statement:

but mainly I want to feed the sheep in such a way that the sheep love God, are so thrilled with God, they tell other people about him, and they come and worship and they love God so much, they tell other people about him.

That sounds a lot closer to what S. Lewis Johnson said, in Piper’s own style, concerning the primary work of the Christian church: to bring us into a closer, more intimate relationship to God.  Sure, evangelism is an important part of the Christian life, but I don’t see it as of such primary importance, as being in a “both-and” with reference to the work of the pastor and the Christian church.

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