Book Review – Overlord

hastings.pngIn 1984, the British journalist and military historian Max Hastings published Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. This is a balanced, excellent account of the Allied invasion of France in 1944 (Operation Overlord), and the subsequent battle for Normandy in the months that followed.

The book’s principal strength is its unflinching analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the British, American and (to a lesser extent) Canadian armies which led this invasion force. Most “popular histories” of World War 2 are hagiograpic; that is, they romanticize things. The Americans are often portrayed as infinitely competent, the British plodding and over-cautious, and the Germans faceless ciphers.

Hastings is different.

He presents the Americans and British (particularly the Americans) as amateurish, and no match for the German army when it met it in anything like equal numbers. Instead, the British and Americans are solid, competent, plodding, but nowhere near the brilliant fighting force some popular historians (e.g. Stephen Ambrose) often portray them as. Indeed, it was its remorseless logistical advantage which allowed the Allied armies to grind the German army into submission:

… it was the Allies’ superiority of materiel that enabled them to prevail at last, assisted by competent generalship and a solid performance by most of their men on the battlefield (373).

This kind of analysis may startle some American readers, particularly those who have not read a bit more widely. Hastings continued:

The allies in Normandy faced the faced the finest fighting army of the war, one of the greatest that the world has ever seen. This is a simple truth that some soldiers and writers have been reluctant to acknowledge, partly for reasons of nationalistic pride, partly because it is a painful concession when the Wehrmacht and SS were fighting for one of the most obnoxious regimes of all time (370).

The primary difference between these armies, Hastings believed, was a fight for survival. The German army, for a variety of reasons, fought with something akin to fanaticism. The Americans fought as if they had a dirty job to do. The British were anxious to minimize casualties, as Montgomery led Britain’s last great army in the field.

Normandy was a campaign which perfectly exemplified the strengths and weaknesses of the democracies. The invasion was a product of dazzling organization and staff work, and marvelous technical ingenuity. Once the armies were ashore, there was no firework display of military brilliance. Instead, for the armies, there was a steady, sometimes clumsy learning process. Each operation profited from the mistakes of the last, used massed firepower to wear down the Germans, absorbed disappointments without trauma.

This last was a true reflection of the nature of the struggle: most German commanders, amidst the insuperable difficulties of grappling both with Hitler and the allies, declined towards a state bordering on hysteria. Among the Allied armies, however, there was sometimes gloom, but never real alarm or nervousness. These symptoms were more in evidence at SHAEF, where the role of impotent spectator taxed some men, even the highest, beyond endurance.

Montgomery and Bradley and their staffs and corps commanders merely fought, reconsidered, and fought again until their resources granted them victory (373-374).

Hastings provides an inspired, brief but comprehensive and lively account of the immediate lead-up to Overlord, and the battles which followed. His analysis is sound, logical, and insightful. I appreciated his attempts to go beyond hagiography and lay bare the fact of the matter. I believe the record bears out the conclusion that the Americans and British were competent, the Germans were clearly superior, and the Russians who pressed Germany from the east had become an extraordinarily formidable foe by 1944.

For some further reading, I’d suggest the following:

“Let it Go” and Bible Translation Philosophy

Many people are looking for a “formal equivalence” translation of the Bible, even if they don’t use that nerdy term. They want a Bible that translates the Greek and Hebrew into English as accurately as possible, following the original intent of the original words as closely as possible. That’s good.

But, how do you do this?

People have different philosophies of translation, and we see that in Bible translations. Some folks try to stick very close to the structure of the original language (e.g. the NASB), while others try to catch the flavor and meaning, even if they have to use a bit of creative license (e.g. NET, NEB, NLT).

Some well-meaning pastors and bible teachers passionately defend a “formal equivalence” translation philosophy. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t agree. But, first, here’s a good definition so we understand what we’re talking about:

Formal equivalence: a theory of translation that favors reproducing the form or language of the original text, not just its meaning. In its stricter form, this theory of translation espouses reproducing even the syntax and word order of the original; the formula word for word translation often implies this stricter definition of the concept.

Leland Ryken, Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009; Kindle ed.), KL 186-188.

I like this definition. It has good motives. The main drawback is that this kind of translation philosophy will often produce cardboard English; a stilted, artificial, and extraordinarily formal text. That’s why the NASB isn’t very elegant.

I could go on … but I have an example for you. It’s not a Bible verse; it’s something entirely different. I want you to watch (and read) the subtitles for Disney France’s official version of the mega-hit single “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen. The subtitle function in YouTube uses a formal equivalence translation philosophy when it renders the French lyrics into English. Listen, and tell me what you think!

You know the real lyrics to this song; they’re colloquial and make intuitive sense. When we speak and listen, real meaning isn’t so much in the individual words, but in the vernacular words, phrases and contemporary context which shapes and gives meaning to this speech.

You either know or hate this song. But, I know you’ve heard it. Read the subtitles, and learn what a formal equivalence translation philosophy can do to a poetic work. Here’s a preview of the first chorus:

Liberated! Delivered!
I will never lie again
Liberated! Delivered!
It’s decided! I’m leaving!
I left my childhood in Summer
Lost in winter
The cold is my price for freedom

Consider why some pastors, translators and bible students are less than sold on a full-throated, formal equivalence translation philosophy.

Here it is (if closed captioning isn’t already on, turn it on) …

Were the Novatians Early Baptists?

baptistryWere the Novatians Baptists? Many Baptists like to claim the Novatians as their own. Landmarkers believe they were Baptists through and through.

For example, J.R. Graves declared “that all the churches of Christ, before the ‘apostasy,’ which took place in the third and fourth centuries . . . were what are now called Baptist churches.”[1] Thomas Armitage, the great Baptist historian, rightly said this was a rash characterization.[2]

If they cannot be claimed as direct descendants, can Novatians be claimed as the distant spiritual kin of modern-day Baptists? Some Baptists would agree.

Much of what has been written of the Novatians by Baptists of any stripe is at best a gloss, and at worst completely incorrect. As an example of the latter, G.H. Orchard, a Landmarkist, wrote:

One Novatian, a presbyter in the church of Rome, strongly opposed the readmission of apostates, but he was not successful. The choice of a pastor in the same church fell upon Cornelius, whose election Novatian opposed, from his readiness to readmit apostates. Novatian consequently separated himself from the church, and from Cornelius’s jurisdiction. Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion.[3]

J.M. Carrol, in his infamous treatise Trail of Blood, declared that when the errors of compromised local church autonomy, infant baptism and baptismal regeneration crept into true churches, the Novatian Baptists sallied forth for the cause of ecclesiastical purity:

Some of the churches vigorously repudiated them. So much so that in A.D. 251, the loyal churches declared non-fellowship for those churches which accepted and practiced these errors. And thus came about the first real official separation among the churches.[4]

Jack Hoad, a solid historian, likewise missed the boat when he wrote that Novatians were “making a strong protest against the same moral laxity and the weak, almost non-existent disciplinary standards in the churches . . .”[5] Thomas Armitage observed, “[t]he Novatians demanded pure Churches which enforced strict discipline, and so were called Puritans.”[6]

All of these brief characterizations are wrong. They are either so simplistic as to be unintentionally misleading, or terribly anachronistic. A thorough review of what Cyprian and Novatian actually wrote will demonstrate that the Novatian’s doctrine of (1) baptism, (2) local church autonomy and (3) church discipline are completely incompatible with New Testament (i.e. Baptist) ecclesiology.

Background to the controversy[7]

Cast of Characters

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage from 248-258 A.D. He fled Carthage during the Decian persecution (250-251 A.D.) and communicated with his flock by letter. He returned to Carthage after the persecution ended, and quickly worked to restore order in his church and deal with the problem of the “lapsed;” those who worshiped the Roman Emperor during the persecution.

Novatian was a leader in the church at Rome, which may have numbered over 50,000 at this time. The Bishop of that church, Fabian, perished at the beginning of the Decian persecution. Novatian handled official correspondence from the church after Fabian’s death, and probably expected to be appointed as the new Bishop. It was not to be. Cornelius was installed instead, and shortly thereafter Novatian officially broke with the church at Rome over how to handle the problem of the lapsed.[8]

The background

In the year 250 A.D, Roman Emperor Decius ordered all Christian “spokesmen” to offer a sacrifice of incense to him, to demonstrate their submission to his authority. Christian “spokesmen” were the clergy, and thus each Christian Pastor had a very serious decision to make. Sooner rather than later, a Roman pro-consul would roll into town and require all Christian leaders to come forth and make the requisite offering and, in return, receive a certificate proving obedience.

Many Christian leaders resisted this infamy and persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom soon followed. “Any refusal to obey the edict would be tantamount to treason. With many refusing to obey, the church quickly appeared as a serious threat to the unity of the Empire.”[9] This persecution ended as abruptly as it began when Decius was slain on the field of battle in 251 A.D. fighting the Goths.

It is a fact that many Christians apostatized during this time of trial. The tortures were great and terrible. Eusebius, for example, relates a representative account:

They seized first an old man named Metras, and commanded him to utter impious words. But as he would not obey, they beat him with clubs, and tore his face and eyes with sharp sticks, and dragged him out of the city and stoned him.[10]

Cyprian wrote a comprehensive treatise entitled On the Lapsed after he returned from exile. He admitted that, in Carthage, “the greatest number of the brethren betrayed their faith.”[11] They had voluntarily betrayed their Savior. Cyprian was shocked that all the clear warnings from the New Testament about persecution could be ignored. “Have not prophets aforetime, and subsequently apostles, told of these things?”[12]

Cyprian reminded his readers that Christ had ordained eternal punishment for those who rejected Him. Even worse, many Christians apparently rushed to deny Christ and escape potential harm; “freely they hastened to death, as if they had formerly wished it, as if they would embrace an opportunity now given which they had always desired.”[13]

Cyprian couldn’t help but wonder if their consciences betrayed them as they offered worship to Emperor Decius; “did not their tread falter? Did not their sight darken, their heart tremble, their arms fall helplessly down?”[14] In their zeal to apostatize, some Christian mothers even brought their infants along as they offered worship to Decius![15] Cyprian flatly condemned all apostasy during the persecution; “[n]or is there, alas, any just and weighty reason which excuses such a crime,”[16] and attributed the lax character of Christians to love of things of the world rather than Christ.[17]

Once the persecution was over, what should churches do with believers who had so readily and enthusiastically apostatized from the faith? There were two categories of people to consider;[18]

  1. those who had offered incense to the Emperor and obtained certificates proving it, and
  2. others, usually the wealthy, who had simply bribed Roman authorities and obtained their certificates without sacrificing to the Emperor. This was the question which sparked the Novatian schism.

Novatian had a peculiar view on what ought to be done about the lapsed. He broke from the Church at Rome after Cornelius was elected as Bishop. Novatian’s enemies painted a picture of him as a bitter and spiteful man, consumed with jealousy, anxious for revenge. Dionysius claimed “a long time ago this remarkable man desired the episcopate, but kept this ambitious desire to himself and concealed it,—using as a cloak for his rebellion those confessors who had adhered to him from the beginning.”[19]

Novatian’s split from the church, and his self-declaration as the Bishop of Rome, was a naked attempt to “grasp and seize the episcopate, which had not been given him from above.”[20] Dionysius even claimed that Novatian plied gullible men with liberal amounts of alcohol and “compelled” them to support his rival claim to the Bishopric![21]

Schism was a matter that Cyprian could not tolerate. To him, the corporate, catholic church (in the true sense of the word) was unbreakable. Like distinct sunbeams come from a single source, and tree branches draw strength from one root, and tiny streams flow from one large body of water – the church was the source of divine life. Cyprian wrote, “ . . . she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated.”[22] Indeed, Cyprian believed that those who left church, like the Novatians, proved they were never believers in the first place (1 John 2:19):[23]

Whoever he may be, and whatever he may be, he who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian. Although he may boast himself, and announce his philosophy or eloquence with lofty words, yet he who has not maintained brotherly love or ecclesiastical unity has lost even what he previously had been.[24]

To Cyprian, the Novatians and their ilk were like the men of Korah, Dathan and Abiram – traitors to Christ! Not only that, such men were actually worse than the lapsed![25] A schismatic may die a martyr’s death but is still without hope of salvation; “[t]hey cannot dwell with God who would not be of one mind in God’s Church.”[26] The Novatians, as far as Cyprian was concerned, were not even believers – they were counterfeits; “[h]e professes himself to be a Christian in such a way as the devil often feigns himself to be Christ.”[27]

Sometime in 251 A.D., as the Novatian schism was heating up, Dionysius received a letter from Novatian asking for his support. His response sums up the prevailing attitude towards schism during this period. He told Novatian that it would better if he were martyred for the unity of the church, rather than to divide it!

For it were better to suffer everything, rather than divide the Church of God. Even martyrdom for the sake of preventing division would not be less glorious than for refusing to worship idols.[28]

This is a brief background of the situation. This complicated intrigue is usually simplistically portrayed as (1) Novatian the Baptist (or Baptist forerunner) standing on principle against the (2) dark and sinister forces of a centralized church. Well, what did Novatian actually believe? Can he be claimed as a Baptist, or at least a Baptist forerunner?

Doctrine compared


Baptists believe the New Testament teaches that baptism is only for a believer, by immersion, upon a profession of faith, as a step of obedience and public testimony. Baptists do not believe baptism is a means of grace or a means of regeneration. Novatian disagreed with every single one of these propositions. One very important document from this period is entitled On the Apostolic Tradition, which may have been written by Hippolytus and records the practices of the church in Rome in the early 3rd century.[29]

The Decian persecution, and the subsequent Novatian schism, took place during the early to late 250’s A.D. Therefore, Apostolic Traditions is a very important resource for understanding how the church at Rome likely operated in Novatian’s day. It is a fact that the church practiced infant baptism:

You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak. Then baptize the grown men and finally the women, after they have let down their hair and laid down the gold and silver ornaments which they have on them. Nobody should take any alien object down into the water.[30]

This snapshot of church polity in Rome around the time of Novatian demonstrates that the church practiced infant baptism.[31] “Little ones” were to be baptized before adults. These “little ones” were divided into those who could speak for themselves, and those who could not. Apparently, the little ones were members of a family who were all being baptized together.

Unless a critic is prepared to dismiss Apostolic Traditions out of hand, or is willing to explain away the baptism of these “little ones” too young to speak for themselves, or perhaps even argue that Novatian secretly disagreed with this practice in his own church where he was already an acknowledged leader, then it is a fact that Novatian’s church in Rome practiced infant baptism and he likely approved of the practice.

Novatian himself was baptized by pouring. He was sick and near death, and was baptized upon his sickbed. Eusebius, the historian, recorded a now lost epistle from Cornelius (Novatian’s successor) to this effect:

But Satan, who entered and dwelt in him for a long time, became the occasion of his believing. Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it. And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit?[32]

Cornelius went to observe that Novatian’s irregular baptism was not becoming of a clergyman, and it nearly cost him his position:

For this illustrious man forsook the Church of God, in which, when he believed, he was judged worthy of the presbyterate through the favor of the bishop who ordained him to the presbyterial office. This had been resisted by all the clergy and many of the laity; because it was unlawful that one who had been affused on his bed on account of sickness as he had been should enter into any clerical office; but the bishop requested that he might be permitted to ordain this one only.[33]

There is more evidence to suggest that Novatian’s doctrine of baptism was suspect. In his treatise on the Trinity, in the context of defending the humanity of Christ, Novatian wrote, “ . . . in baptism and in the dissolution of death the flesh is raised up and returns to salvation, by being recalled to the condition of innocency when the mortality of guilt is put away.”[34]

Is Novatian speaking of Spirit baptism, or of the ordinance of water baptism? Elsewhere, commenting on the fulfillment of Jewish dietary laws in the finished work of Christ, Novatian condemns those who still observed the Mosaic Law – likening it to voluntary slavery. “Yet there is no advantage at all of righteousness, while we are recalled by a voluntary slavery to those elements to which by baptism we have died.”[35] This quotation could also be seen to refer to Spirit baptism.

Novatian does make one very clear statement that strongly suggests he held to some form of baptismal regeneration:

He it is who effects with water the second birth, as a certain seed of divine generation, and a consecration of a heavenly nativity, the pledge of a promised inheritance, and as it were a kind of handwriting of eternal salvation; who can make us God’s temple, and fit us for His house; who solicits the divine hearing for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; filling the offices of advocacy, and manifesting the duties of our defence . . .[36]

J.N.D. Kelly, for one, is convinced that Novatian believed the Spirit did something at baptism. [37] One cannot read Novatian’s words and come away with another interpretation. His successor in Rome, Cornelius, went a step further and believed that the Holy Spirit was only given to a believer after baptism and after the bishop laid hands on the candidate![38] Cornelius went so far as to question whether Novatian was actually indwelt by the Spirit because of his irregular baptism:

And as he did not receive this [confirmation by laying on of hands after baptism], how could he receive the Holy Spirit?[39]

The third-century book On the Apostolic Tradition documents what the church in Rome (Novatian’s church!) did immediately after baptism:

And afterwards, each drying himself, they shall dress themselves, and afterwards let them go into the church. And the bishop, laying his hand on them invokes, saying: Lord God, you have made them worthy to deserve the remission of sins through the laver of regeneration: make them worthy to be filled with the Holy Spirit, send your grace upon them that they may serve you in accordance with your will; for to you is glory, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit in the holy church both now and to the ages of the ages. Amen.[40]

Briefly, it has been demonstrated that (1) the church at Rome likely practiced infant baptism during Novatian’s day, (2) Novatian himself was baptized by pouring, not immersion, and (3) his baptism was not done as a public testimony of his new-found faith – it was done in private, upon a sickbed.[41]

Moreover, Novatian made numerous statements that could be interpreted to support some form of baptismal regeneration. Not only that, but documents from the church at Rome from the 3rd century suggest that Novatian’s church believed the Holy Spirit was bestowed after baptism and after confirmation by the bishop. Cornelius, Novatian’s own successor, criticized him for (1) his irregular baptism and (2) not having been confirmed afterwards! This is not the portrait of a Baptist crusader.

Autonomy of the local church

Baptists believe that the local church is an autonomous, independent, democratic body. It is not a representative democracy, like the Presbyterian model. It is a direct democracy, more akin to a town-hall meeting, where every member has a say and carries equal weight. This does not rule out cooperation and consultation with other like-minded churches; it simply means that, in the end, the local church makes its own decisions.

In 250 A.D., Novatian had stepped into the breach when good Bishop Fabian was martyred. In this capacity, he corresponded with other churches on behalf of the church at Rome. He was on friendly and cordial terms with Cyprian at this time. In a letter to Cyprian, Novatian[42] agreed with him that, as soon as the persecution ended, a council should be convened to determine what to do about those who had lapsed from the faith:

However, what you also have yourself declared in so important a matter, is satisfactory to us, that the peace of the Church must first be maintained; then, that an assembly for counsel being gathered together, with bishops, presbyters, deacons, and confessors, as well as with the laity who stand fast, we should deal with the case of the lapsed.[43]

More specifically, Novatian believed this issue was too big for individual churches to make on their own. He believed in what Robert Reymond would call a connectionalism,[44] or a catholicity among churches. Important decisions ought to be made only after close consultation with other men from other churches:

Look upon almost the whole world devastated, and observe that the remains and the ruins of the fallen are lying about on every side, and consider that therefore an extent of counsel is asked for, large in proportion as the crime appears to be widely propagated.[45]

J.M. Carroll warned his readers that if they found a church which didn’t hold to a series of identifiable “marks,” then beware! Among these marks, he wrote:

[t]he churches in their government and discipline to be entirely separate and independent of each other. Jerusalem to have no authority over Antioch; nor Antioch over Ephesus; nor Ephesus over Corinth; and so forth. And their government to be congregational, democratic. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.[46]

If this be the case, Landmarkers should stop claiming Novatians as their kin!

After the persecution ended, Cyprian held his own council in North Africa, as did Cornelius in Rome[47] (by this time Cornelius had been elected as Bishop and Novatian had split from the church). The Western churches by this time appear to have developed a distinctly Presbyterian-style of polity, whereby the decrees of representative councils were expected to be obeyed. Notice the corporate decision-making process in Cyprian’s North African council:

 . . . the advice gathered from the comparison of all opinions being communicated and weighed, we might determine what was necessary to be done. But if any one, before our council, and before the opinion decided upon by the advice of all, should rashly wish to communicate with the lapsed, he himself should be withheld from communion.[48]

Novatian agreed with the idea of a cooperative council to decide what was to be done with the lapsed. His successor, Cornelius, later held a council in Rome to formulate that policy. There is no concept of the autonomy of individual, local churches. The best that can be said for Novatian is that he wished to include the laity in his council. Instead, there is a distinctly Presbyterian-flavor to this ecclesiology. In the ensuing controversy, Cyprian would move the church well along the path towards an Episcopalian polity.

Church discipline and the lapsed

 Most Baptists would agree with Cyprian on church discipline, if they would only read what he wrote. Ernest Pickering’s characterization is representative of what most Baptists believe about this issue; “[b]asically, he and his followers were contending for a stricter view of the requirements for church membership than was generally accepted in his day.”[49]

Thus, Novatian is a crusading separatist; Cyprian is a lax compromiser. The truth is that Novatian was a schismatic exclusivist.


Cyprian was not lax. He believed that the truly repentant ought to be re-admitted into fellowship, and the unrepentant be excluded. When some of the lapsed presumptuously demanded to be re-admitted to the church, Cyprian condemned this “seditious practice” and charged that the clergy who permitted it were “frightened and subdued” men, who “were of little avail to resist them, either by vigour of mind or by strength of faith.”[50] Instead, Cyprian advocated a moderate, sensible policy:

 . . . we balanced the decision with wholesome moderation, so that neither should hope of communion and peace be wholly denied to the lapsed, lest they should fail still more through desperation, and, because the Church was closed to them, should, like the world, live as heathens; nor yet, on the other hand, should the censure of the Gospel be relaxed, so that they might rashly rush to communion, but that repentance should be long protracted, and the paternal clemency be sorrowfully besought, and the cases, and the wishes, and the necessities of individuals be examined into . . .[51]

A priest must be able to discern false confessions from real ones.[52] Cyprian actually believed the lapsed were actually being re-admitted too readily! Those who allowed the unrepentant to return to fellowship were actually harming them.[53]

Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord![54]

Pastors who re-admitted the lapsed rashly ought to be shunned.[55] Cyprian fumed at these men; “[w]hy do they hinder those who ought to weep continually and to entreat their Lord, from the sorrowing of repentance, and pretend to receive them to communion?”[56] Folks who are truly unrepentant are easy to spot, Cyprian argued – just look at their fruit![57] These people received no forgiveness for their denial of Christ.[58] Cyprian’s policy was to look for fruits of honest repentance; for example, he recommended accepting some lapsed people back into fellowship who had been repentant for three whole years!

 . . . we think it may be sufficient for entreating the mercy of the Lord, that for three years continually and sorrowfully, as you write, they have lamented with excessive penitential mourning.[59]

If a priest unwittingly admitted a false repentant person, Cyprian was content to let the Lord sort it all out;

Moreover, we do not prejudge when the Lord is to be the judge; save that if He shall find the repentance of the sinners full and sound, He will then ratify what shall have been here determined by us. If, however, any one should delude us with the pretence of repentance, God, who is not mocked, and who looks into man’s heart, will judge of those things which we have imperfectly looked into, and the Lord will amend the sentence of His servants.[60]

The following words from Cyprian should destroy the false idea that the man was lax about re-admitting the lapsed:

To a deep wound let there not be wanting a long and careful treatment; let not the repentance be less than the sin. Think you that the Lord can be quickly appeased, whom with faithless words you have denied, to whom you have rather preferred your worldly estate, whose temple you have violated with a sacrilegious contact? Think you that He will easily have mercy upon you whom you have declared not to be your God?

You must pray more eagerly and entreat; you must spend the day in grief; wear out nights in watchings and weepings; occupy all your time in wailful lamentations; lying stretched on the ground, you must cling close to the ashes, be surrounded with sackcloth and filth; after losing the raiment of Christ, you must be willing now to have no clothing; after the devil’s meat, you must prefer fasting; be earnest in righteous works, whereby sins may be purged; frequently apply yourself to almsgiving, whereby souls are freed from death.[61]

All in all, Cyprian advocated a sensible, strict and practical approach to the lapsed. He was not lax at all. Historians who claim otherwise have simply have not read his writings.[62]


What did Novatian really think about lapsed apostates? Could they ever be re-admitted to fellowship? Some irresponsible historians have painted a false picture in their writings. One of these men is G.H. Orchard, who wrote:

Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion.[63]

To Orchard, Novatian was a pious, principled Baptist – a man who exercised an influence of “an upright example, and moral suasion.”[64] The fundamental question is this – is there any circumstance where an apostate may be re-admitted to fellowship in a local church? Is any amount of repentance sufficient? Or, are these believers cut off from fellowship, let alone membership, in a local church?

Novatian believed the sin was unforgiveable. J.M. Cramp accurately summed up the issue:

Novatian held that apostacy was a sin which disqualified them from again entering into church fellowship, and to secure a pure community, he formed a separate church, which elected him for its pastor.[65]

Alas, it wasn’t always this way! Novatian did not leave many extant writings. The best and most helpful of these is Epistle 30, found in Cyprian’s collection of writings. In this letter, before the schism, Novatian was in full agreement with Cyprian on what to do about the lapsed. Strict discipline was essential for preserving the church.[66] Hasty restoration of the lapsed was an insult to the fallen and a detriment to the lapsed themselves.[67] He advocated for a prolonged and genuine repentance; what Novatian himself called a “middle course:”[68]

Let them indeed knock at the doors, but assuredly let them not break them down; let them present themselves at the threshold of the church, but certainly let them not leap over it; let them watch at the gates of the heavenly camp, but let them be armed with modesty, by which they perceive that they have been deserters; let them resume the trumpet of their prayers, but let them not therewith sound a point of war; let them arm themselves indeed with the weapons of modesty, and let them resume the shield of faith, which they had put off by their denial through the fear of death, but let those that are even now armed believe that they are armed against their foe, the devil, not against the Church, which grieves over their fall.

A modest petition will much avail them; a bashful entreaty, a necessary humility, a patience which is not careless. Let them send tears as their ambassadors for their sufferings; let groanings, brought forth from their deepest heart, discharge the office of advocate, and prove their grief and shame for the crime they have committed.[69]

In all respects, the Novatian who wrote Epistle 30 around 250 A.D, before the schism, was in complete agreement with Cyprian. Anyone who compares Epistle 30 with Cyprian’s On the Lapsed would believe they were written by kindred spirits. Unfortunately, Novatian changed his mind. Nobody knows why he changed his mind; there are no extant writings which tell us. There are rumors Novatin was a reluctant figurehead, but Eusebius very much doubted it.[70] All the record tells us is that, after the schism at the church of Rome, Novatian apparently decided that the lapsed could never be forgiven.

Cyprian complained to Cornelius in Rome (who had been elected to the position Novatian likely craved for himself) that the Novatians were guilty of “grievous rigor” and “inhuman hardness.”[71] Novatian was “the opponent of mercy and love.”[72] Moreover, Dionysius lamented that Novatian “has calumniated our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ as unmerciful.”[73] Cyprian wrote to a church leader in Arles that Novatian was in grave error:

 . . . holding that most extreme depravity of heretical presumption, that the comforts and aids of divine love and paternal tenderness are closed to the servants of God who repent, and mourn, and knock at the gate of the Church with tears, and groans, and grief; and that those who are wounded are not admitted for the soothing of their wounds, but that, forsaken without hope of peace and communion, they must be thrown to become the prey of wolves and the booty of the devil . . .[74]

It appears, from the words of his enemies, that Novatian decided the lapsed were simply without hope of forgiveness. This was why Dionysius called him “brother-hating and inhuman.”[75] He had become an exclusivist somewhere along the way; an anonymous critic sneered, “[c]ertainly he declares that he and his friends whom he collects are gold!”[76]

Cornelius, for his part, saw Novatian as a “wily and subtle man” with the “poisoned cunning” of a serpent.[77] Novatian apparently based his position on Matthew 10:33; “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” This same anonymous author rejected this line of argument, noting that “its meaning is assuredly with respect to future time—to the time at which the Lord shall begin to judge the secrets of men—to the time at which we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” [78] The author did not understand how Novatian could change his mind so radically. He compared Novatian to Saul, who likewise turned rotten at the end.[79]

Other men have wondered the same thing throughout the years. Ambrose, writing in the late 4th century about the Novatian schism, remarked that “[f]or when the Lord forgave all sins, He made an exception of none.”[80] How could Novatian be so harsh as to suggest that the lapsed could never be forgiven? Jerome, writing at roughly the same time, went even further. Denying Christ, he argued, certainly was not the unpardonable sin. How could Novatian suggest it was?

But to put a more searching question still: let Novatian tell us how he distinguishes speaking against the Son of Man from blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. For I maintain that on his principles men who have denied Christ under persecution have only spoken against the Son of Man, and have not blasphemed the Holy Ghost.[81]

Later Novatians continued to believe that the lapsed had indeed committed an unpardonable sin. The historian Socrates Scholasticus, writing sometime in the late 4th and early 5th century, recorded Emperor Constantine’s interview with a Novatian Bishop. The record tells us that Constantine was casting about, trying to find a way to heal the division between the Novatians and the church. He called for the Novatian Bishop, Acesius, and asked why the schism still persisted:

When, therefore, the emperor further asked him, ‘For what reason then do you separate yourself from communion with the rest of the Church?’ he related what had taken place during the persecution under Decius; and referred to the rigidness of that austere canon which declares, that it is not right persons who after baptism have committed a sin, which the sacred Scriptures denominate ‘a sin unto death’ to be considered worthy of participation in the sacraments: that they should indeed be exhorted to repentance, but were not to expect remission from the priest, but from God, who is able and has authority to forgive sins.

When Acesius had thus spoken, the emperor said to him, ‘Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.’ [82]

Constantine’s answer can still draws a laugh today! The implication, of course, is that Acesius is arrogant, haughty and exclusivistic. Later in his church history, Socrates relates his own account of the Novatian schism, and makes it quite clear that Novatian believed the church had no power to accept the lapsed back into fellowship. They had committed a “deadly sin” and could not partake of the sacraments. Novatian exhorted the lapsed to repent and to hope that God would forgive them. Meanwhile, they could not fellowship with other believers. Socrates observed;

As he asked that they should not receive to the sacraments those who after baptism had committed any deadly sin this appeared to some a cruel and merciless course: but others received the rule as just and conducive to the maintenance of discipline, and the promotion of greater devotedness of life.[83]

It appears, in the final analysis, that Novatian changed his mind somewhere along the line. He and Cyprian had been in essential agreement. However, he came to believe the following:

  1. The sin of the lapsed was so great (a “deadly sin”) that the church could not re-admit them to fellowship under any
  2. Meanwhile, the lapsed must be encouraged to seek repentance from God and could be given no encouragement or assurance that He even would forgive their sin
  3. He felt Cyprian’s policy towards the lapsed was too loose; indeed, it was blasphemous for the lapsed to be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.


So, was Novatian a Baptist? Much more could be written about the Novatian schism. However, just from a brief examination of Novatian’s doctrine, it is apparent that the man cannot be claimed as Baptist:

  • His church likely practiced infant baptism, he himself was baptized by pouring and, in his own case, the ordinance was not performed as a public testimony of his faith. Moreover, there is good evidence that Novatian’s church believed in some form of baptismal regeneration.
  • Novatian favored a primitive, Presbyterian-style church polity characterized by a connectionalism between churches. He favored large ecclesiastical councils which decided doctrine and practice for several churches. There is no evidence that Novatian believed in the independence and autonomy of the local church.
  • Finally, Novatian was un-Biblical in his exclusion of the lapsed from fellowship in the church. He felt their sin was unpardonable, and declared they were without hope of forgiveness. He was schismatic and exclusivistic.

This is a far cry from the sweeping generalizations in so many Baptist publications. In three key areas of Baptist polity, (1) baptism, (2) autonomy and (3) church membership, Novatian was sub-Biblical and decidedly un-Baptist. John Christian, in his Baptist history, gamely tried to salvage something from the Novatians:

The Montanists, the Novatians, and the Donatists held diverse opinions, not only from each other, but from the teachings of the New Testament; but they stressed tremendously the purity of the church.[84]

Novatian did not merely stress the purity of the church; he believed the lapsed were without hope of forgiveness! No amount of honest repentance was apparently enough for Novatian; it would be difficult to find a fiery Baptist who would agree with Novatian on this point. The man was not a Baptist, and cannot legitimately be claimed as the spiritual kin of any Baptist.


[1] James R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (Memphis, TN: Graves, Mahaffey & Co, 1880; Kindle reprint, First Vision Publishers, n.d.), Kindle Locations 2235-2236.

[2] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, revised and enlarged ed. (New York, NY: Bryan, Taylor, & Co.,

1890; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, n.d.), 482.

[3] G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Baptists (Nashville, TN: 1855; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 2003), 53.

[4] J. M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood, Kindle ed. (Emmaus, PA: Challenge Press, 2013), Kindle Locations 294-295.

[5] Jack Hoad, The Baptist (London, England: Grace Publications, 1986), 30.

[6] Armitage, History of the Baptists, 178.

[7] Two church historians have particularly excellent accounts of this whole matter. First, see Philip Schaff, A History of the Christian Church, 8 vols., 5th ed. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1858; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 2:193-197, 849-853. Second, see David O. Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:183-199.

[8] Schaff, History, 2:849-850.

[9] David O. Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:187.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.41.3, NPNF2, 1:283.

[11] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Lapsed 7, ANF 5:439.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, On the Lapsed 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, On the Lapsed 9.

[16] Ibid, On the Lapsed 10.

[17] See On the Lapsed 11-12.

[18] Beale, Historical Theology, 1:187-188.

[19] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.43.5, NPNF2, 1:287.

[20] Ibid, 6.43.8, NPNF2, 1:288.

[21] Ibid, 6.43.9-10, NPNF2, 1:288.

[22] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church 5, ANF 5:423.

[23] Ibid, On the Unity of the Church 9, ANF 5:424.

[24] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 51.24, ANF 5:333.

[25] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church 18-19, ANF 5:427.

[26] Ibid, On the Unity of the Church 14, ANF 5:426.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.45.2, NPNF2, 1:290.

[29] See the introductory material to Hippolytus of Rome, On the Apostolic Tradition, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Popular Patristics Series, Number 22, ed. John Behr (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 20-32.

[30] Ibid 21.4-5, 110–111.

[31] The interpretation of this passage is hotly contested! G. Wainwright observes, “[h]istorians and exegetes have a heavy ecclesial and ecclesiological investment here, for the answer effects, even if it does not finally settle, the contested issue of the impropriety, legitimacy or necessity of infant baptism,” (“Baptism, Baptismal Rites,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1997], 123).

[32] Eusebius, Church History 6.43.14-16, NPNF2 1:288-289.

[33] Ibid, 6.43.17, NPNF2 1:289.

[34] Novatian, On the Trinity 10, ANF 5:620. Emphasis mine.

[35] Ibid, On the Jewish Meats 5, ANF 5:649. Emphasis mine.

[36] Ibid, On the Trinity 29, ANF 5:641. Emphasis mine.

[37] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1978), 209.

[38] See Eusebius, Church History 6.43.14-16, NPNF2 1:288-289.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Hippolytus of Rome, On the Apostolic Tradition 21:20-21, 112.  The editor of this edition disagrees that the text supports bestowal of the Spirit. He believes it is a prayer that believers be filled with the Spirit at a later date; something like an early Keswick doctrine (123).

[41] There is not sufficient space to explore why, precisely, Novatian felt it necessary to be baptized upon his sick-bed. Did he feel that baptism was more than a mere symbol, and actually did something to the subject? Philip Schaff noted that believers in this day often postponed baptism as long as possible, believing that baptism itself only washed sins away that were committed prior to baptism (History, 2:254). The seeds of baptismal regeneration and the concept of penance were germinating in Novatian’s day; and Cyprian would do a great deal of the fertilizing.

[42] Cyprian later explicitly identifies Novatian as the author of this letter; see Epistle 51.5 ANF 5:328.

[43] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.5, ANF 5:310.

[44] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 900-904.

[45] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.5, ANF 5:310.

[46] Carroll, Trail of Blood, Kindle Locations 179-181.

[47] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 51.6, ANF 5:328

[48] Ibid, Epistle 51.4, ANF 5:328.

[49] Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 13.

[50] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 22.3, ANF 5:300.

[51] Ibid, Epistle 51.6, ANF 5:328. See also Epistle 54.13, ANF 5:343.

[52] Ibid, On the Lapsed 14, ANF 5:441.

[53] Ibid, On the Lapsed 18, ANF 5:442.

[54] Ibid, On the Lapsed 15, ANF 5:441.

[55] Ibid, Epistle 27.1, ANF 5:306.

[56] Ibid, On the Lapsed 16, ANF 5:441.

[57] Ibid, On the Lapsed 30, ANF 5:445-446.

[58] Ibid, On the Lapsed 34, ANF 5:446.

[59] Ibid, Epistle 52.2, ANF 5:336.

[60] Ibid, Epistle 51.18, ANF 5:331.

[61] Ibid, On the Lapsed 34, ANF 5:447.

[62] This author read every single epistle and treatise Cyprian wrote. Much more evidence could be marshalled in support of Cyprian’s approach to church discipline than what is presented here.

[63] Orchard (Concise History of the Baptists, 53).

[64] Ibid, 54.

[65] J. M. Cramp, Baptist History: From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Close of the Eighteenth Century (London, UK: Paternoster, 1871; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, n.d.), ii.

[66] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.2, ANF 5:309.

[67] Ibid, Epistle 30.3, ANF 5:309

[68] Ibid, Epistle 30.8, ANF 5:311.

[69] Ibid, Epistle 30.6, ANF 5:310.

[70] Eusebius, Church History 6.45.1, NPNF2, 1:290.

[71] Cyprian, Epistle 53.5, ANF 5:338.

[72] Ibid, Epistle 66.4, ANF 5:369.

[73] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 7.8, NPNF2, 1:296.

[74] Cyprian, Epistle 66.1, ANF 5:368. See also Epistle 54.13, ANF 5:343.

[75] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.43.2, NPNF2, 1:286.

[76] A Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian by an Anonymous Bishop 1, ANF 5:657.

[77] Cyprian, Epistle 45.1, ANF 5:322-323.

[78] A Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian by an Anonymous Bishop 7-8, ANF 5:659.

[79] Ibid, 14, ANF 5:661.

[80] Ambrose of Milan, Two Books Concerning Repentance 1.2.5, NPNF2 10:330.

[81] Jerome, Letters 42.2, NPNF2 6:57.

[82] Socrates Scholasticus, Eccesiastical History 1.10, NPNF2 2:17, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. A. C. Zenos (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890).

[83] Ibid, Ecclesiastical History 4.28, NPNF2 2:112.

[84] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists,  2 vols. (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1922; Kindle reprint, 2013), vol. 1, Kindle Locations 79-80.

A Pastor Must Follow the Bible

bibleRead the series so far.

What on earth should a congregation look for in a Pastor? A hip haircut? A charismatic personality? A minimum number of FaceBook followers? A guy who posts cliched Instagram pictures of his open Bible and a cup of coffee, just like this one? A man who looks “relevant” and “edgy,” like this guy? A man who’s “woke,” as they say?

Is that what we need in our churches? A “woke,” hip, relevant man-child, aged 50-ish, who dresses like this guy (yes, that man is a pastor – no joke)? A guy like Ignatius, the awesome Youth Pastor?


Let’s return to reality for a moment or two; a safe space where the bistro table pulpits are donated to Goodwill, the pathetic posturing is dropped, the virtue signaling ends, and the weird, hipster clothes are burned in a pyre, just like Darth Vader.

Let’s return to the real world, where we need real Pastors who provide real leadership to real people who face real problems, in the real world.

Let’s do the most un-“woke” thing possible to answer this question. Let’s go to the Bible …

Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13)

Paul taught Timothy everything he knows, with a bit of help from his mother and grandmother along the way. He told Timothy to follow his example about “sound words.” Now, brace yourselves, but Paul is dead.

Yes, it’s true.

He didn’t leave any YouTube videos or mp3 recordings behind for us to find, and Nero deleted Paul’s FaceBook page once he had him executed. This means the only place we’ll find Paul’s words, so we can follow them, is in the preserved Word of God – the Bible

The Bible was written by over 40 men, over the course of 1500 years, and we believe God moved each of those men to record and write exactly what He wanted them to write. As one Baptist confession puts it:

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried (1833 NHCF, Article 1)

God then preserved these books (through the thousands of copies and their mass distribution, and the reverence God’s people have always had for them) down through the centuries so we could have them on our laps, phones, or tablets today.

So, Paul is telling us a Pastor has to be a guy who’s completely committed to following what the Bible says. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t so obvious. Just consider the four “big questions” I mentioned in the last article; how can you answer any of these questions unless you’re committed to interpreting and following God’s Word, in God’s way?

Creation: how did we get here?

Were Adam and Eve real people, or just story figures created by a writer to make a point? Are men and women really the highest of all God’s creations, and made in His image, with all the implications for human dignity, value and worth this implies? Did God actually create the world, or did it somehow come into being out of nothing? Is our world designed by an intelligent Creator, or the product of random chance?

There are people who claim to be Christian today who deny every one of these things, and some of them even claim to be conservative!

If you believe God’s Word speaks today, and is relevant, then you’ll be laughed at by the world – if a man can’t handle that, and isn’t prepared to have a conversation about why God’s right and the scoffers are wrong (more on that in a moment!), then he can’t be a Pastor

Fall: why are things the way they are? Why do bad things happen?

Does Satan actually exist? Does God have laws, rules, and the power, authority and jurisdiction to hold His creatures accountable for them? Are men and women really ruined by sin, born as children of wrath who are under the power and control of Satan, whom Paul calls the prince of the power of the air? Hurricanes, floods, famines, tsunamis, murders, rapes, domestic abuse, child abuse, robbery, death itself – is all this the way God made the world? Is this what He desires for the world?

There are people who call themselves Christians today, who claim to love and follow God’s Word, who couldn’t answer those questions in a straightforward way

Redemption: how can things be fixed? How can they be set right?

Did Jesus actually exist? For over 100 years, some alleged Christians have argued that we don’t know who the “real Jesus” actually is[1]. Did God really send Jesus to willingly and voluntarily die in our place, as our divine substitute, for God’s wrath to be satisfied, to atone and pay for sins, and to reconcile us to Him?

Some Christians hate the idea of substitutionary atonement, calling it “divine child sacrifice.” Did Jesus really obey God’s law perfectly, because we can’t? Did Jesus really rise from the dead, to destroy Satan’s power over men and women, “and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage,” (Heb 2:15)?

Was He really seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses, and then ascend back to the Father’s side in heaven, to intercede and be the eternal advocate and High Priest for everyone who repents and believes in His message of eternal forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation?

Some “Christians” believe the miracles in the Bible are just “stories,”

Restoration: will things ever be fixed?

Is Jesus coming back to defeat Satan and set things right? Will there be an eternal state, where Satan is in hell, everything is made new and “good” again, and Father and Son rule and reign together, and there is peace on earth? Will there be a final judgment, where everyone will stand before Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords, and give an account for whether He’s obeyed or rejected the command to repent and believe the Gospel?


So, when Paul says “follow the pattern of sound words,” he means Timothy has to commit himself to preaching and teaching the same message Jesus taught, and Jesus’ message is grounded in the Old Testament and all the precious promises it contains!

The Pastor can’t be a slave to church traditions that are unbiblical. He also can’t be an innovator who wants to “update” the Gospel for today’s culture, because we allegedly “know more” than Paul, Peter, John and Jesus did.

Instead, he must be committed to follow the pattern of sound words we find in the Bible:

  1. A Creation that was made perfect in the beginning, to glorify and honor God;
  2. The rebellion that ruined everything in the world, including us;
  3. God’s plan to redeem and remake Creation, and to save some of us from ourselves along the way by way of His eternal son, who lived a perfect life for us in our place and willingly died for our sins, in our place, as our substitute, and rose from the dead to defeat Satan and the curses of sin and death;
  4. And, he must be committed to and believe the promise that Jesus is coming back one day to defeat all enemies, establish His kingdom, and rule over a new and better creation, and all of us who repent and believe in the Good News will be there with Him, to worship and serve Him for eternity.

In short, the Pastor has to be committed to following the Bible!

This series is based on three sermons I recently preached. The audio is below. Here are the sermon notes for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Audio Part 1 – 

Audio Part 2 – 

Audio Part 3 – 


[1] The various quests for the “historical Jesus” are complicated. I commend folks who spend their scholarly careers interacting with these revisionists, but I don’t feel the need to offer a “nuanced” view of this controversy here.

Gentleness and Reverence?

smiley2Why should Christians want to ask for God’s favor, instead of returning evil for evil, or insult for insult? What is the end-goal? Why should we be prepared to give an account of the hope that’s within us? I covered some of this in Sunday School, as we examined this passage (1 Peter 3:13-17; what follows is my translation):

So, who’ll harm you, if you’re zealous for what’s right? But, even if you do suffer because you’re doing what’s right, God will bless you. So, don’t be afraid of their threats or be intimidated. Instead, reverence the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.

Always be ready to give a defense to every man who’s asking you for an account of the hope inside each of you. But, do this with gentleness and reverence in order to have a good conscience, so that when they keep slandering your good way of life because you belong to Christ, they might be ashamed. Because it’s better to suffer because you’re doing what’s good (if that’s God’s will), than because you’re doing what’s evil.

The audio is below, and the translation notes are here.

A Pastor Must be a Leader, Not a Coward

lionRead the rest of the series.

Paul tells Timothy something very important, and it’s so obvious and so clear that we sometimes take it for granted – a pastor must be a leader, not a coward. In 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Paul reminds Timothy to “rekindle” the pastoral gifts he had, which God had given him through the Holy Spirit. In other words, don’t be depressed. Don’t despair. Don’t give up your fight for the Gospel. Don’t give in to laziness. Let your love of Christ and His Gospel burst into “flames” of enthusiasm, and serve the Lord with passion!

Why was this reminder even necessary? Why did Paul tell this to Timothy? Because it’s natural for a guy to become timid, to slink back, to tuck his head into his shell like a timid little turtle, to start treading lightly as the storm clouds of persecution began to crash out against Christians in the Roman Empire. Remember the apostles immediately after Jesus’ execution!

But, the point here is that God didn’t give Timothy (or any Christian) a spirit of timidity, of cowardice, of fearful fright. Instead, he gave him power. The power of the Spirit, to aid us when we’re afraid. The power of direct access to the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the captain of our salvation who blazed that trail for us, right through the compartments of tabernacle, past that torn and obsolete curtain, right to the very throne of grace.

God gave Timothy love. This means love for one another, love for the Gospel, love for the Father, love for His eternal Son Jesus Christ, and love for the Spirit who gives us spiritual life and draws us to salvation.

He also gave us discipline or self-control. The self-control to do what’s right, no matter what pressures are brought to bear by the Accuser. The discipline to lead a congregation to follow and worship the Lord in spirit and truth, no matter what the culture says.

Paul continues …

Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:6-7)

Let me be as plain as vanilla ice cream right now, and tell you straight-out:

  • A Pastor can’t be a coward!
  • A Pastor can’t be timid!
  • A Pastor can’t be afraid to stand for the truth!
  • A Pastor can’t be afraid of people, including Christians!

This is what Paul told Timothy. These are critical times for Christians, and we need leaders in our churches who:

  • care about the Gospel,
  • and have the spirit of power,
  • and have a love for God
  • and the discipline to be fearless, persuasive, winsome and passionate ambassadors for the Good News of Jesus Christ

You can’t do that if you’re terrified about what people think about you or the Gospel. If you love God, you’ll want to defend Him and proclaim Him to the world. Make no mistake, organizations across this entire land (secular and Christian) are filled with so-called leaders who are cowards. You’ve worked for some in the past. You may even work for some right now. You know what I’m talking about. Christians can be very skilled at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be loving and kind.

  • A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag,
  • might not know Augustine from Anselm,
  • might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle,
  • but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor

Don’t do it – a Pastor can’t be a coward, not with the pressures and challenges he faces every day. He must be a leader. That’s exactly what Paul turns to next:

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me (2 Tim 1:8-12)

Folks, a Pastor can’t be a wilting flower of a guy. He must be mentally tough. He needs to be willing to never be ashamed of the Gospel, and its implications for every single facet of your life.

The Christian life is a worldview, an inter-related network of beliefs and convictions that combine together to inform how we view this world – the Christian faith is a picture and story that interprets reality; that explains “the way things are:”[1]

  1. Creation: how did we get here?
  2. Fall: why are things the way they are? Why do bad things happen?
  3. Redemption: how can this be fixed? How can things be set right?
  4. Restoration: will things ever be fixed?

Every worldview, every religion (yes, atheism and scientific naturalism is a religion; I’m also tempted to believe politics are a religion for some people, too! 😊) has a set of beliefs that seek to explain these four, most basic concepts and, together, they form the skeleton you use to interpret and understand the world around you.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ answers each of these four “big questions” in a way no others can (because it’s the only truth😊), and this message has implications that should echo and reverberate throughout every nook, cranny, corner and closet of your life. If your local church doesn’t have a leader who is willing to understand that, and can’t lead your congregation individually and corporately to impact your community, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and enemies with this picture of reality (the only true picture of reality), then he’s not fit to be a leader of a Christian church.

The Pastor must be a leader – his job is too important.

I preached two sermons on these and eight other “marks of a good pastor.” The notes are here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), and the audio is below:

Audio – Part 1

Audio – Part 2 


[1] These days, there are plenty of books which discuss the idea of a Christian worldview. One of the most helpful, I believe, is Gregory Koukl’s book The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017). His book is really a description of the Christian “story” for seekers; that is, unbelievers who are interested in finding out what Christianity is about. It’s a wonderful book to give to someone who fits this description.

My description of the Christian worldview as a “picture” or “story of reality,” along with the four “big questions,” are taken from his book. Again, I’ve heard and read this all before, but Koukl did a masterful job of distilling these concepts here.

Book Review – The Glorious Cause

middlekauffRobert Middlekauff’s tome, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763 – 1789is a worthy overview of the Revolutionary-War era. It picks up in the heady days immediately after the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), when a cash-strapped Britain decided it needed some additional revenue to pay off debt accumulated during the late war. It ends with the Constitutional Convention, in 1787, and the ratification of the new Constitution shortly afterwards.

This book is part of the esteemed Oxford History of the United States series, and it lives up to its billing. Each volume is written by a distinguished, responsible historian at the height of his powers. Middlekauff takes the reader into the halls of Parliament and into the homes of colonists in New England, the middle colonies, and the South.

  • The political context is very well framed, and any American who still thinks of the Revolutionary War in cartoonish shades of black and white will be set right, if he reads this book. I appreciate the pains Middlekauff took to frame the political and cultural context on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the best part of the book.
  • The military aspect is rushed, but adequate. The reader won’t get any meaningful, comprehensive sense of how the war went. Middlekauff discussed Lexington and Concord, vaulted to Boston, skimmed the disastrous retreat from Long Island, across to New Jersey and thence to the fateful night in Trenton in perhaps 15 pages. From there, we get a smattering of discussion about the war in the South, and a lively (but brief) discussion of the siege at Yorktown. Anybody looking for a comprehensive overview of the military aspect of the Revolution will be disappointed. But, remember, this is a survey work. However, Middlekauff does offer some insightful analysis of the logistical problems (on both sides), and a lengthy discussion on “why they fought.”
  • The time-period leading up to the Constitutional Convention is merely sketched, and the reader finds himself in Philadelphia without quite realizing how he got there! Middlekauff’s discussion about how the Constitution was drafted, and the accompanying arguments and controversies, is very well done, and I appreciated it.

Overall, in about 690 pages of text, Middlekauff managed to take us from the French and Indian War to the Constitutional Convention – and he managed to be substantive, deep, insightful and engaging. That’s not an easy thing to do! I appreciated the book, and liked it a lot. This is the best one-volume survey of the era I’ve read. I doubt I’ll find anything to top it.

More reading

I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the Revolutionary War-era. I’m not a professional historian, but I believe I’m more well-read than most on this topic. Here are few good books on various aspects of the Revolutionary War-era to supplement Middlekauff’s work: